by Christian Hosoi with Chris Ahrens (HarperOne, 2012)
On the cover of his autobiography, skateboarding legend Christian Hosoi’s visage is stark, intense and raw. Inside, Hosoi presents his life similarly — no fluff, no gloss, no airbrush tool — just an honest account of his journey from skating prodigy to drug addict to religious family man.
Written in a conversational style (in present tense, which this reader found somewhat distracting) the book begins when Hosoi is arrested at Honolulu International Airport with a pound and a half of crystal methamphetamine. He is 32 years old at the time. It’s a pivotal moment to be sure and Hosoi’s prison sentence will paradoxically become his ticket to freedom.
But before we get to all that delicious redemption, there are more than 200 pages of biographical foundation, anecdotes and occasionally superfluous storytelling to sort through. That’s not to say there isn’t some great reading along the way — especially for anyone nostalgic for 1980s to ‘90s skateboarding lore — but it has a tendency to become tedious and a bit egocentric even for an autobiography. At the same time, it takes a certain hubris, a particular kind of self-love to become a rock star — which Hosoi very much was. And who doesn’t want to read about the life of a celebrity?
From the beginning, we learn that Hosoi’s upbringing was unconventional and punctuated by contradiction and symbolism. He spent a lot of time with his artist father (his parents divorced when he was only 3 years old) who introduced the hyperactive Christian to marijuana when he was 10. Smoking with his dad was to Hosoi as tossing around a football in the front yard was to other kids his age. But he urges the reader not to judge too harshly. Despite some questionable parenting techniques, Hosoi’s father, “Pops,” was also his greatest champion, driving him long distances to skateboarding competitions and even becoming the manager of the famed Marina Del Rey Skatepark where Christian evolved his now-legendary natural ability and unique style.
Hosoi grows up fast alongside the likes of Jay Adams (who travels a similar path), Tony Alva and his skating nemesis (the tension was greatly exaggerated) Tony Hawk. The fresh scrubbed Hawk takes the high road to previously unheard of sustained success in the sport while Hosoi follows his lower instincts to ruin.
This book is, in many ways, a companion to the documentary film Rising Son: The Legend of Skateboarder Christian Hosoi which was released in 2006. There is quoted material and photography from the film in the book. While the book gives greater detail and is told in Hosoi’s “voice” rather than narrated by Dennis Hopper, the film, by benefit of the medium, allows you to get a sense of Hosoi’s humanity. Where the Christian Hosoi we meet in the book at times comes across as reckless, arrogant and driven by self-interest, the extra dimension of Hosoi we are given access to in the film tempers all that mannish boy egoism, and the skater who once dubbed himself “Christ” (before he gave his life to the Christ) becomes extremely likable.
Christian Hosoi’s story is an important one. It is a tale of triumph, possibility, hope and second chances. A young boy with limited resources and a lot of chutzpah became intimate with a skateboard and wrote history — at least from a cultural anthropological standpoint. Everything he touched turned to gold, until gold was only as valuable as the drugs it could buy, and self-actualization was traded for self-destruction. When the bubble burst, Hosoi met the hard reality of what his life had become face down, and so “the fallen son” was risen. And who doesn’t love a happy ending? If only Hosoi took a little less time to get there — then again, there’s always the movie.