With his $350,000 annual income—when the average NBA salary was $300,000—Christian bought a Mustang, a Harley-Davidson, a tricked-out Jeep and a McLaren sports car, all before he had a driver's license. He hung out with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Beastie Boys, Ice-T and the actors River Phoenix and David Arquette. "I was just a teenager, but I was living the full rock-star life," says Christian. "I could have anything I wanted, do whatever I wanted. Girls. Cars. Clubs. Drugs."
Louanna Rawls, the daughter of soul singer Lou Rawls, met him in an L.A. club in 1987. She didn't know who Christian was, but "when he walked into the room, the room stopped, and it had nothing to do with skateboarding. He was a hot, charismatic guy." That evening marked the start of their 3�-year relationship, during which they would live together in a house in Echo Park formerly owned by W.C. Fields, where Christian had a wooden half-pipe constructed in the backyard.
He would fly a half-dozen skaters with him to Hawaii or Rio and pick up every check that came near him. "We would go out to get sushi and there would be this posse of 15 boys around us," Rawls says, "and Christian would pay for everyone." Once, after a demo in Hawaii, Christian stopped his white Lincoln Town Car—he always rented a white Lincoln Town Car when he was on the road—and asked a bunch of young skaters if he was going to see them later that evening at a nightclub. "We were like these little groms and we didn't have any money and I told him that," says Fukuda, who would later skate for Hosoi Skates. "And then on the down-low, so nobody would see it, he gave me a bunch of twenties so I could buy beer and food for all us kids who didn't have any money."
Even as Christian reigned as the preeminent skateboarder in the industry, a revolution was unfolding on California streets in the late '80s. Young skaters, frustrated by the lack of skateparks and unable to get access to abandoned swimming pools, began to exploit the terrain they found on the streets. They began to incorporate almost every feature of the urban environment—handrails, steps, pylons, loading docks, park benches—into what was called street skating. By the early '90s the magazines and videos devoted most of their coverage to these young skaters, and the prize money for vert contests virtually disappeared. Christian and Hawk, the two most famous vert skaters, could still pick up small demo fees and sponsorship deals, but they quickly saw their lifestyle go from rock-star level to what Hawk calls "just eking it out. In the early '90s I spent a week in Dallas doing three demos a day at Six Flags for $100 per day. That could be discouraging if you're used to making thousands for one appearance."
Christian claims to have been undeterred by the revolution that toppled him. "I've never been someone who dwells on the past," he says. "I could skate anywhere. If street skating was it, then I could skate on the street." But the new players in the industry, companies like World Industries or H-Street, were not about to pay some aging pool skater to do a signature model. In 1991 Rawls dumped him, and as his sponsorship money dried up, Christian was forced to move out of the Echo Park house. He moved in with his mom, making the drive home in his silver McLaren.
Christian had always been a spendthrift, and Pops, who made most of Christian's business decisions, did not take a long view when it came to managing his son's money. (Hawk's father, Frank, on the other hand, prudently guided Tony's affairs and insisted that Tony invest some of his substantial earnings.) "Most corporates would have paperwork," Pops explains, "but we weren't into that. We didn't have contracts. We didn't want to create this paperwork-lawyer thing. This is a sport that's done underground." Typical of Pops's management style was his one-sentence explanation to Peralta for Christian's decision to leave Powell&Peralta in the early '80s: "The bird has flown." By the early '90s Christian was down to making a few thousand dollars a month, mostly from international demos.
"It killed him," says Monta�o. "He was such the Man, and it was hard for him to admit he wasn't anymore."
Skateboarders have always been exposed to underground—and illegal—temptations. Whether Christian's downward spiral was exacerbated by drugs is impossible to determine. He insists that it wasn't drug abuse that destroyed his career but dumb luck, a couple of bad business calls, a few rash decisions. Perhaps there is some truth in this, but it is certain that when Christian began using large amounts of hard drugs in the early '90s, in particular crystal meth, the act of defying gravity, in a halfpipe or in life, no longer seemed so effortless.
In 1993 Christian moved again, this time to Orange County, closer to the clubs and drugs he craved, and farther away from skating. "He could have progressed as a street skater," says Monta�o. "He was doing handrails, stairs, but it killed him so bad being out of the magazines. Then he moved out of the neighborhood, and we couldn't keep tabs on him. If we had known he wasn't skating, we would have killed him."
Christian acknowledges that his drug use accelerated in 1995, when he went from snorting speed to smoking it. " Coke was out, speed was in," he says. "I was partying and going to clubs, doing a bunch of meth and Ecstasy. I was flying, and you know I was never afraid of flying high."