Hall of Fame legend Christian Hosoi shares his journey “from prison to freedom”
At a time in the 1980's when skateboarding was exploding, two young athletes led the pack – Tony Hawk and Christian Hosoi. As the sport of "vert" skating was evolving, Tony and Christian were pushing the limits, soaring higher, farther and faster. Competitions generally boiled down to a two-man face-off where jaw-dropping stunts re-wrote the record books nearly every weekend.
Two decades later, the Tony Hawk brand is on everything from skateboards to shoes, Game Boys to national tours. Christian Hosoi, once called the "Michael Jordan of skateboarding", has found his way – by God's grace – back from the abyss of drug addiction and a stretch in prison to a new freedom.
He is now a pastor while also making a comeback in professional skateboarding and was inducted into the International Skateboarding Hall of Fame in 2013.
Although he was named after Fletcher Christian, the famed mutineer, Christian was anything but a rebel growing up.
"He was so perfect we thought there was something wrong with him," says his father, who introduced him first to surfing, then to skateboarding.
By age 12, Christian was the top amateur in the nation: at 14, he turned pro. Fans who revered him as god-like nicknamed Christian "Christ," and the young superstar accommodated them by inventing his signature trick – the "Christ Air" – which mirrored the image of Christ on the cross.
"Ultimately, I just wanted to party" Christian, and his Christ Air, was on the cover of every major action sports magazine before he was old enough to drive. Pulling in $250,000 a year backed a rock-star lifestyle and confirmed Christian's celebrity status. He plunged into a world where there was no hope, no purpose, only the relentless search for satisfaction.
"I couldn't find it in success, I couldn't find it in money, I couldn't find it in girls and relationships, I couldn't find it in business," he says. "Finally, I couldn't find it in drugs."
Perhaps as a sign of what lay ahead, he entered into a series of failed business ventures and then, when the focus of skateboarding shifted from vert to street style, the bottom dropped out for a generation of athletes. By then, he had developed an addiction to crystal methamphetamine.
"My addiction was to use crystal meth," he says. "I wasn't a drug dealer. I didn't want or need money. Ultimately, I just wanted to party."
In January 2000, Christian agreed to carry 1.5 pounds of the drug from California to Hawaii for a cut of the stash. He was arrested at the Honolulu Airport and charged with intent to distribute – a crime that carried a ten-year sentence. He was 32 years old.
"There were no more strings to pull," he says. "It was done. All the lines were cut. The key was thrown away. It's time to wake up, Christian, and face the music. Now what was I going to do?"
Jennifer, his girlfriend at the time, now his wife, opened the door to a life worth living, even behind bars.
"I just told him that he needed to get a Bible and we needed to have faith in God," said Jennifer. "Christian's answer was 'God? Babe, I need a lawyer.' "
Just weeks after he went to prison, Jennifer's uncle – Pastor Chris Swaim – called Christian and offered him an answer to what seemed like a hopeless dilemma. Jennifer was also on the call as the three prayed together.
"He asked me if I had ever met Jesus Christ as my Savior," says Christian. "We were crying, bawling our eyes out, and all I remember was just asking Jesus to come into my heart."
"From that moment, even though I was in prison it was like I was the freest man in the world. When I came from freedom to prison, it was like I came from prison to freedom."
Christian and Jennifer married while he was still behind bars. He was an exemplary inmate, earning his high school diploma and studying his Bible for hours each day. In 2004, a judge reduced his sentence by more than half and released him. In less than two years, Christian was ordained as an associate pastor and resumed his professional skating. He began organizing skate-nights for at-risk kids in the inner city, and as well as sharing his testimony on tour with the 'Livin It' action sports tour.
"I'm a professional skateboarder. I've accomplished a lot of things and I've gotten a lot of fame and glory but nothing compares with being a child of God," he says.
"That's the miracle work of God...that he can take a guy like me, a pro skater who became a drug addict, and turn his life around. For me, that's the evidence that God is so real, that He changed my heart...He changed my mind...He changed my life."
Courtesy Luis Palau Association. Hosoi's story is documented in the film "Rising Son" and the autobiography "Hosoi: My Life As A Skateboarder Junkie Inmate Pastor."