The two skaters came to represent divergent cultural strains in the sport. "There was starting to be a division between the hard-core punk skater and the skatepark skater," says Vitello. "Because Tony's dad was always around, Tony had the reputation of being a goody-goody guy, while everyone else was getting stoned all the time." Consider, for example, the pre-contest ritual of the two skaters: Frank Hawk would have his son doing calisthenics in the parking lot, while Pops and Christian would alternate sucking pure air from an oxygen tank and taking bong hits. (Pops was smoking marijuana with his only son from the time Christian was 10.)
In a sport where the badder you were, the more highly you were regarded, Christian's popularity was enhanced by having Hawk as a rival. The two of them would engage in an epic battle through the '80s for contest titles, sponsorship deals and fame, earning hundreds of thousands of dollars while traveling around the world.
It is 11:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning in Kahala, Oahu. It's flat off Diamond Head, no waves, so seven surfers (and skaters) are hanging out in a shabby living room, flopped on sofas that smell like wet dogs. The Winds are drawn. Spread out on the cracked, glass-top coffee table are a few skate and surf magazines, empty beer bottles, dirty coffee mugs, a bong and a ziplock baggie of red-haired buds. Elbling, an old friend of Christian's from back in Venice, has already rolled and shared five blunts. Every few minutes, preposterously-proportioned women in tiny Lycra bikinis wander in from the bedroom and sit down on the sofas. They cross their legs and wait to become the center of attention. When they realize they can't compete with the skate videos the guys are watching, they push themselves off the couches and leave.
At first we are watching recent videos, compendiums of street-skating tricks or pool sessions somewhere in California, New Jersey or Virginia. The rhythm of these tapes resembles that of pornography: quick shots of skater after skater doing sick trick after sick trick. Money shot after money shot.
"Yeah. Yeah! Stop it. Dude! Stop it right there. Dude, rewind that."
"And he lands a fakie! No way."
"Backside! Oh, s—-!"
After about 20 minutes, and another two blunts, Elbling slips in a 1991 video of Christian and Hawaiian legend Kali Self-ridge skating in a pool not far from this house. The tempo is different from the earlier footage. Instead of ruthlessly editing each run down to one trick, the director let this session play out in real time. The skaters and surfers watching this video—most of whom first met Christian in Santa Monica or here in Hawaii—stare at the screen in reverential silence. Christian's run is the fluid opposite of the jerky contemporary pool sessions we had been viewing. Though his tricks are not as complex as those of some of the modern pool skaters, his style transcends eras and technical virtuosity. He puts his moves together with such flow it is as if his run was choreographed. "He was just so beautiful to watch," says former pro Grant Fukuda, shaking his head. "There will never be another skater like him. He had it all, the best moves and the most incredible lifestyle."
Christian was famous for enjoying the considerable perquisites of being the best in a sport that defined counterculture cool. He changed sponsors several times before finally starting his own company, Hosoi Skates, in 1985. (His logo, his name over a rising sun, winked at his Japanese heritage.) That year he was making, by his own estimate, a few thousand dollars a month on the sale of decks alone. He also had endorsement deals with Jimmy Z, Oakley and Swatch; Converse put out a poster of him with Magic Johnson. Perhaps the steadiest money Christian made came from traveling around the world giving demonstrations—to promote a local skate shop or company—for up to $5,000 per day. He appeared in Coke and Pepsi commercials, in music videos for the Beastie Boys and in the skate-sploitation movie Thrashin'.