Since his release from prison in 2004, Christian Hosoi has emerged as one of the skateboarding industry’s most vocal Christian evangelists. The married father of two (Rhythm and Classic Hosoi), is now a pastor at The Sanctuary Church in Huntington Beach and currently stars in a Christian reality television show entitled The Uprising. (A typical episode features Hosoi and two other skateboarders visiting backyard pools, skate parks, and other locales to minister and find fellowship.)
Hosoi is one of only a small handful of truly canonical professional skateboarders—an eminence who once defined an era. Often portrayed as Tony Hawk’s great rival, Hosoi literally brought ramp skating to new heights throughout the 1980s—dominating contests with massive aerial maneuvers, surfer’s grace, extraordinary personal magnetism and a winning flamboyance. (Note the multiple Swatches, neon spandex biker shorts, ever-present scarves and notorious hair extensions in footage from this period). By his early twenties Hosoi had taken up residence in W.C. Field’s former Hollywood home, installed a half-pipe ramp in the garden and became a fixture of the Los Angeles club scene. He invented the trick known as “The Christ Air” and, because of his star power, was nicknamed “Christ.”
However, when the skateboarding industry collapsed in the late 80s and street-skating suddenly eclipsed the ramp-era, Hosoi’s life took a dark turn. After spending most of the 90s in the throes of drug addiction and financial disarray, he was arrested, in January of 2000, at the Honolulu International Airport attempting to transport 1.5 pounds of crystal methamphetamine and spent four years in the San Bernardino Central Detention Center. It was at the beginning of this legal travail that Hosoi found Christianity.
Joel Rice recently spoke to Hosoi about where he has been, where he is going, and his ambitions for The Uprising.
Q: You were caught with more than a pound and a half of methamphetamine at the Honolulu International Airport. What was that moment like?
Christian Hosoi: At that moment, I didn’t know there was going to be five or ten years hanging over my head.
You’re saying, “How is this happening to me? Why is this happening to me? Why me?” I believed in Karma at the time. I was pointing my finger at all these bad people and saying, “Why are they out there when I’m in here?”
But then I went in and I had my first phone call. It was pretty incredible. My girlfriend said, “You know what? I love you. We just got to trust in God.” And I was like, “God? Babe, I need a lawyer.”
Q: By that point you obviously had fallen quite far. You had once occupied the pinnacle of the skateboarding world. By eighth grade you were generating a $2,000 a month income…?
CH: How much was I making?
Q: In eighth grade you were making $2,000 a month.
CH: Yeah. In eighth grade, when I was 15. But in my pinnacle days, just as a factual thing, I was making more like $30,000 a month.
Q: What do you miss about that time in your life? What are you glad to put behind you?
CH: I miss the competition and the actual skateboarding family that it was. It was a really tight knit industry. It was so fresh, so new, so innovative. I really do miss that freshness.
What I don’t miss is the lifestyle that came with it, and the pressures of following everybody else’s expectations and not following my own heart. I grew up in a time of drugs, rock n’ roll and sex. So if you didn’t do those things you were considered weird or not cool. See, there was no option for me. It was either cool or not cool.
I worried about my children being exposed to that environment, especially without knowing what the repercussions would be. But now that I’ve experienced that [lifestyle] firsthand, I can actually say that path will lead you down a road of destruction and despair. Eventually you will be put in prison, kill somebody or get killed.
Q: One of themes you return to on the show is the deep regret you feel about that period. In one episode you say, “How ungodly it all was.” Wasn’t it also just fun? The clothes, the multiple Swatches, the hair extensions. It looked like fun.
CH: The Bible talks about sin being pleasurable. Sin is pleasurable. That’s why it’s so hard to convince people − friends and peers − to give up that lifestyle for something they can’t see, that they can’t perceive. How do you convince someone to give up something that feels right and looks right while everyone else around them is doing it?
That’s the part where I say, “You know what? I did have fun.” There was nothing I wanted that I couldn’t get. I had everything handed to me on a silver platter. How do I tell people to sacrifice all that? Here’s why: for eternal life.
Never growing up in church, never praying until I was 31-years-old, being addicted to drugs for ten years, having a dysfunctional lifestyle − these are things I don’t glory in. But there is hope. You haven’t gone too far. There is a second chance. I’ve lived this second life, with joy and peace, kindness and self-control, purpose and meaning.
Q: You converted to Christianity soon after your arrest. Could you describe that experience?
CH: My wife’s uncle is a pastor and he was trying to reach out to her. And she just really wasn’t feeling God. I guess she considered herself an atheist. Then her friend almost OD’d at her house. And she said, “Christian, I am quitting drugs and I’m going to church.”
I ended up getting arrested right after that. And she was like, “My uncle wants to talk to you.” And so I called him from San Bernardino prison. And he said, “You know God has a plan for your life.” And I’m looking at ten years of prison time and going like, “God has a plan for my life?” And he’s like, “Yes. But you really need to give yourself to Christ because you’re going to touch millions of people.” So my girlfriend and I said the prayer together on the phone and I gave myself to Christ over the phone in San Bernardino prison. And my life has never been the same since that moment.
That’s when all those spiritual markers − my name being Christian, my nickname being Christ, inventing the maneuver the Christ Air in the late 80s − started rushing by me like a movie projector.
See, I had a revelation. I had never prayed before. I had never read a Bible. I just read the Bible in county prison on a triple-decker bunk bed seeking God with my whole heart.
Q: You also got your GED in prison. Did you find the classes stimulating?
CH: There were only inmates working as the tutors. That’s pretty much it. I studied for about a month and a half and took the test.
Actually, I happened to take the test the very first time that they changed the test to be more advanced. And everyone was like telling me how easy the GED was. But then they were like, “We’re testing out this new test, and it’s going to be the new GED. We’re testing the new test.” And it was, like, way harder. And I was like, “Oh my God. I hope I pass this.” Because, I dropped out in the tenth grade, you know what I mean? But God gave me the abilities. So it was super cool.
Q: It must have been incredibly painful to see skateboarding flower while you were in prison. Peers like Tony Hawk were striking a very lucrative chord with the public. The sheer longing to skateboard must have been overwhelming.
CH: You know it was. At first I was like, man, I am going to miss out on so many years of the evolution of skateboarding. But when I fell in love with Jesus it was like I had a whole newfound passion. And that was to speak the Lord and know the Lord and be able to communicate that with my friends and family, and to share that with the skateboarding community. And I said, “Whenever you want me out there, God − to be able to represent you and be out there and to skateboard again, I’m fine with that.”
Q: What would the 42-year-old Christian Hosoi now, say to the 16-year-old Hosoi then?
CH: Tell him hey, “Have you ever prayed before? Do you believe in God? Do you know what your name means? Your nickname is Christ. Do you know what Christ has done for you?” No one sat there and really took the time and said, “Hey, I love you.” I would tell that kid, “Hey, look at what I’ve been through. You don’t have to go through life trying please everybody.” And I think I would have thought about it with the intelligence that I had.
Today I am here saying I can still skate. I can still dress the way I want to. I can still be rad. I can still be the person I want to be as long as I’m not living in sin, which is obviously in conflict with God’s plan for me.
Q: Do you feel that people sometimes make false professions of faith around you because of the presence of cameras?
CH: No. Because we pray before we do it. For every person that we come into contact for that day it is a divine appointment. It is on purpose. So if that erupts and somebody does come on because there are cameras it ends up being an intervention for their spiritual life that ultimately changes their life forever. See this generation is not used to that. They’re so used to being exploited. Our message is that we really do love them. I don’t force my beliefs on people. But I’m definitely outspoken. I just want to be able to love people in such a way that they’re attracted to the God that I serve. We’re not here to glory in ourselves. I am just being truthful to who I am and people respect that..
Q: You loved the rebellious thrill of skateboarding. In a recent interview you return again and again to the theme of skateboarding’s individuality and state as a skateboarder “You don’t want to be a follower.” But isn’t your show all about finding followers? Do you see a contradiction there? How do you rectify it?
CH: If you look at the rebelliousness we had as skateboarders, we weren’t conforming to mainstream society. We didn’t go by the rules. That was what made us this subculture that was cool, that was edgy and had this outlaw attitude. That’s how we are as Christians today. We’re the most rebellious people today, because we’re not doing what the world tells us to do. We’re here to follow the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. I am in a radical rebellion against what the world is telling us; how the world is telling our children to live in school. You listen to prominent people, doctors, successful people. And their language is so filthy. That’s why our country is in shambles, because we’ve lost touch with our spiritual roots. So, whereas before I was a rebel against the authorities, now I am a rebel against the world.