Pray with me," Christ says. � He puts his right hand against his side of the bulletproof glass and I place my left palm on my side, and we pray. He thanks the Lord for another day and asks that I be enabled to put down on paper the life he has led and the things he has done so as to edify those who will read about him. He also asks that he be allowed to continue to serve God and to lift up those in situations like the one he finds himself in—those who have come to such a purgatory and are now seeking salvation. And then Christ nods, hangs up the phone, turns away and walks back into the San Bernardino ( Calif.) Central Detention Center, where he was serving 10 years for possession of 1.5 pounds of crystal methamphetamine with intent to distribute.
Christ is the nickname of Christian Rosha Hosoi, 36, one of the greatest skateboarders in the history of the sport. He has not stood on a board in more than four years.
Christian was up a tree. The six-year-old had climbed far up a tree, and no one on the school staff could coax him down. He was just sitting there, bare legs dangling from a narrow branch. "And you know how delicate eucalyptus trees can be," a teacher was telling his father, Ivan (Pops) Hosoi, over the phone. "One wrong move and the branch could snap...."
But Pops wasn't concerned. He knew there was nothing to worry about as long as his boy wasn't spooked. And Christian, surprisingly well-coordinated for a six-year-old, was never afraid. He had been climbing almost as soon as he could walk, and he'd often get other boys in his kindergarten class in West Los Angeles to follow him up a tempting trunk, but the other boys would quickly give up, too weak to gain much purchase. By then Christian would already be two stories up, and rising. His classmates would gather at the base of the tree to gawk, and then the teachers would come running.
When the teachers would call Pops, he would already have smoked his first joint of the day, and he'd just sigh and say, "Lady, look—if the kid ain't scared, he ain't in any kind of trouble." Sometimes, though, the teachers would be so freaked out from watching Christian swing from one branch to another that they would insist that Pops retrieve his kid. (Christian's parents had separated when he was two.) Pops would then have to slip on some flip-flops, start up his '59 Volkswagen bus, drive to the school and get Christian to come down.
But Christian never wanted to come down. When the boy was 12, in 1979, Pops, an unsuccessful painter who had assisted Sam Francis and Ron Davis, among other artists, took a job managing a skatepark in part because he marveled at his son's unique ability to stay aloft on a skateboard. Pops let his son skate the park all day, and very quickly even the top skaters took note of this kid with long, black hair who was already going higher than any of them. "Christian was this teeny little kid who just had it," recalls Stacy Peralta, a skateboard pioneer, director of the documentary Dogtown and Z-boys, and screenwriter of the upcoming Heath Ledger and Johnny Knoxville film, Lords of Dogtown. "He had impeccable form even when he was 10 years old, just beautiful to watch. It's weird to see a kid at that age with that understanding of how to move his body through space."
The first photo of Christian published was in Skateboarder in 1980. It shows him blasting a frontside aerial out of a pool. His arms are extended up and back, like a ballerina's in midleap. He stares impassively at the camera, lips clenched. Nearly everyone who was skating then recalls that photo. Something about it—the eerie lighting, the fact that some kid no one had ever heard of was blasting huge air (and looked like he never wanted to come down)—made it memorable. "The first time I ever heard of Christian Hosoi was that photo," says Tony Hawk, an amateur skateboader at the time. "My friends and I thought he was a girl, but we were like, Who is this girl? She rips!"
Christian would soon be anointed the second coming of skateboarding. L.A. natives Peralta, Jay Adams, Tony Alva and Shogo Kubo had established vertical skateboarding—in which the athlete rode the vertical walls of pools and half-pipes—as a sport in Venice, a.k.a. Dogtown, in the 1970s (the region and era so lovingly documented in Peralta's films), but the sport went through a painful contraction in the late '70s and early '80s. It was the half-Japanese Christian Hosoi, sometimes just called Christ, who resurrected and then transformed the sport into the aerial spectacle it would become. He was joined by several other notable athletes: Steve Caballero, Lester Kasai, Lance Mountain, Mark (Gator) Ragowski and the one who would become the most famous of all, Hawk, a weed-thin trick machine. "We invented going out of the pool and doing aerials," says Peralta, "but for guys like Christian and Tony, the swimming pool walls were no longer for riding. They were for launching." If Christian hadn't squandered his great gifts, it is very likely that you and your kids would be watching him blast huge air every year at the X Games and that video game on your PlayStation would be called Christian Hosoi's Underground. "Dude," says Dave Duncan, a professional skater and X Games announcer, "as far as I'm concerned, every dollar that Tony Hawk has made is really Christian's money."
Christian's arrival on the scene coincided with the decision by a few of the sport's primary movers to market it as an outlaw pursuit. It's hard to remember a time when skateboarding was ever anything but a counterculture activity, but during the 1970s boom skateboards were sold primarily in sporting goods stores, next to the fishing rods and lawn darts. But as skateparks shut down because of high insurance premiums and low turnout, Powell&Peralta, the skateboard company run by Peralta and aerospace engineer George Powell, and Independent Trucks (trucks are the plates and axles that connect the wheels to the board, or deck) were among those industry leaders who redefined skating as a beyond-the-pale activity for rebellious kids.
Thrasher magazine started up in 1981 and portrayed skating as an almost nihilistic activity. Thrasher, Powell&Peralta and other skate companies began holding contests such as Terror at Tahoe and Shut Up and Skate at backyard ramps from California to Connecticut. "It was just a bunch of kids rolling up in a van and ripping some ramp in the middle of nowhere," says Peralta. "We knew skating had to become a more underground activity to survive, that mystique was good for the sport."