There are few individuals in the world of skateboarding who are more deserving of the label “legend” than Christian Hosoi. He has been involved with the sport for the better part of his 48 years, after his father, artist Ivan “Pops” Hosoi, became the manager of the famed Marina Del Ray Skate Park which became a breeding ground for the world’s greatest skaters. He turned pro in the early ’80s at the young age of 14 and immediately changed the face of skateboarding forever, coloring even the most basic tricks with his signature flair and pushing stylish airs to new heights. At the peak of his career, he was skate’s biggest rock star in every sense of the word — from pushing the technical limits with innovations like the Christ Air and Rocket Air, to achieving global notoriety (and large paydays) as the Hosoi name and brand grew. But as meteoric was his rise to the very upper echelons of success, as was his plummet into self-destruction: a crystal meth addiction led to an eventual rock bottom at the turn of the century when Christian received a five-year prison sentence for drug smuggling.
After gaining a new lease on life thanks to his supportive family, his passion for his sport, and a newfound love in God, Christian returned to skateboarding and reclaimed his position as one of the world’s most loved and respected figures, but now with an amazing and inspirational comeback story to boot. Christian has been one of the pillars of the sport of skateboarding for over 30 years, many of which have been spent as a brand ambassador for Vans, a company celebrating its 50 year anniversary this year. We caught up with Christian recently to talk about his amazing life, his legendary career, and what being part of the Vans team means to him.
Your affiliation with Vans dates back to the ’80s. Still today it remains one of the most popular footwear companies on the market despite increasing competition from more companies. How has Vans been able to stay relevant amongst skaters from one generation to the next without drastically switching up their designs?
I think it’s the heart and soul of the company that sets them apart. It’s really not based on advances technology or material; its about a movement of style and individuality, and being authentic to yourself and being an original. That’s so relevant today because people want that; people want to create and to pioneer and not be followers. And I think skateboarding has always been a culture that was rebelling against everyone else’s ways of doing things; it’s a committed, “no posers allowed” culture that has attitude. The Van Dorens recognized that early on that kids needed shoes, and saw that their waffle sole was functional for these kids. And at the same time the kids rocking them saying, “Wow, these are dope. These shoes represent who we are here on the west coast of Southern California.” When you look at anything that starts, be it a company or a fashion brand or whatever, it’s because a group of people love what they do and they’ll live it and not change for anybody. It creates an authenticity that Vans embodies; they did back then and they haven’t stopped. Another thing is the way Vans supports the heritage and roots and people that started all this like Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta, Stevie Caballero and even myself. Vans was like, “You guys represent skateboarding and so we want you to represent our brand.” So many companies don’t talk about how they started, where they came from and that they are staying true to who they are, but I think that’s one of the things that makes Vans so relevant. It’s an amazing chemistry that you can’t buy; you can’t go to school to learn. It’s just an experience and you have to be there. And Vans was and is. It’s amazing for me to be part of all the generations I’ve been part of. From Jay Adams, Tony Alva and Shogo Kubo being my mentors, and them taking me under their wing and grooming me and raising me to be who I am today, being an ambassador for Vans and keeping skateboarding authentic. I love that word, and Vans owns that word in this industry. Why? Because it’s exactly what they are.
How do you think Vans has successfully kept its audience attained throughout the years while not expanding its archive all that much?
I think it’s that authenticity factor. They may have gone through some up and downs with business and how the skateboard industry had its changes, like cup soles to this and that. But I think that all and all, Steve Van Doren never gave up on the brand and he knew there was something special about it. I get to travel around the world and hear the stories and trials and overcoming of obstacles and perseverance; they had to sacrifice and keep this company alive through difficult times. But he knew in his heart that it wasn’t just about his brand — it was about the people that loved it. Vans really give the person who buys and wears them their own identity to be whatever they want. An attorney and a lawyer could wear them, and an artist and musician, and a skateboarder; they could be wearing the same pair of vans but on every person they will somehow fit who they are, because they don’t put you in a category. You can wear Vans and be anybody you want and fit in any genre and any subculture.
I’m all about style and when it comes to dressing up and wearing something that compliments who I am – I can put on any pair of Vans with whatever I’m wearing and I’ll look sharp and fresh and dope. It’s not just about looking good when I go out, but it’s making a statement to say, “This is me; I’m an individual and no one is gonna tell me who I’m gonna be. I’m not who you say I am; I’m who I wanna be.” It’s really incredible and that dream and vision starts at the top. All of us who represent Vans – we believe in it and that gives it power. You aren’t just paid to say it. Steve (Van Doren) goes out and he’s with the people – at barbecues and waffle brunches – and he told me he does that so he can meet the people and thank them and tell them he cares. There’s no one else in the industry that does that for any brand. It makes all of us who ride for Vans or who are brand ambassadors just get that much more behind it. When you see you leaders stepping out, setting an example, working hard and investing in what’s going on – not just up there making decisions telling people what to do but actually going out there and doing it — that makes me want to go out there and flip some burgers and shake peoples hands and appreciate those that love the brand! Getting to take photos and sign autographs — that’s an honor and a privilege. I’m so thankful to be a part of.
You are often listed as one of the most stylish skaters of all time. How do you feel the style of skateboarding has changed throughout the years?
Style has definitely changed. Style looks good; style feels good. For one person its different than another. It’s preference. I would never claim myself as one of the most stylish skaters but when I heard someone say that about me its something special. It’s something don’t take it lightly; I am honored every time I hear someone give me a compliment like that. It’s because of those that came before me though – Tony Alva, Jay Adams, Brad Bowman and Shogo Kubo. Those are the people that I looked at and said, “These guys are stylish.” And I looked at surfers too – Jerry Lopez, Dane Kealoha, Larry Bertlemann. When I looked at them and how they rode their board with grace and finesse — I just wanted to be like them. Even Bruce Lee and Elvis Presley are some people that I knew of drew from with their respective styles.
You can’t fake style either; there’s a natural style that comes out when you’re flying through the air and trying to balance. There’s an element of what you like and there’s this element of what is natural. And you can see whether it’s natural or forced, but that natural style is beautiful and something special. You see it in the evolution of our sport through the eras. Growing up with all those guys being my big brothers, to me they are the standard in style. That’s the mark, and people can come up and say this is style or that’s style. I have to say there’s some amazing new talent with great style, but there’s something about the originals, like when it was done first and when it was done in its inception. Before them it was like freestyle and style was not like it is when you went and watched guys surf pipeline. When pool skating hit, style was born and that’s where we all draw that line. Now that street skating is in, we’re coming full circle. Nowadays guys are starting to concentrate on style a lot more than just technical tricks. Now kids are saying “everyone might be able to do this trick, but now how do you do this trick?” I’m enjoying witnessing it and being a part of it.
The difficulty of tricks have seemingly become prioritized over the smooth execution itself. Do you believe this is something that is beneficial to the sport, or just a by-product of skateboarding drifting further away from its surfing roots?
It’s not only beneficial; it’s mandatory. If there’s no progression it’s just stagnating and idling. Kids need to push the limits and the boundaries. That’s all I thought about when I was coming up – I wanted to go higher and father and make it smoother and do it with more speed. When the technical aspects came in it became about learning the most current tricks and then adding to them to invent new maneuvers. The Christ Air was one that invented because we were constantly thinking of progression. I invented the Body Jar doing big air tail taps. It’s that progression that keeps the fire lit for every generation coming up to say, “I want to take it farther.” Kids need to have that drive to progress. If you look at something like tranny — it’s a huge deal in skateboarding now. All these street skaters are all skating tranny now; they don’t only wanna do the most difficult flip trick into a rail and then a flip trick out of a rail, but now they wanna be able to ride tranny. I think that’s amazing because not only are they being inventive but really they are enjoying skateboarding. When street skating came in I just wanted to do it because it was fun; the fun factor of skateboarding is the part I love the most. When you try something difficult and you make it, it’s the best feeling in the world. Even Danny Way doing the mega ramp and having this dream to build this giant ramp with a huge jump – that’s a big imagination but he did it and he proved it could be done and now it’s an actual discipline in our sport. He just broke the world record for highest air in the history of skateboarding. Over 25 feet, and he’s in his 40s! To think a guy who started it is still the guy breaking records, that’s the level of drive and progression that you need to have. I love when I see kids dream outside of the box and do something that pushes not only the sport but themselves.
“The culture of attitude, image and style are all things that can be found in each of these individual subcultures – skateboarding, music, fashion, art and sport — so it just makes sense for all these things to be intertwined.”
Independent skate brands have arguably never been more “fashionable” than now. What are your thoughts on the intertwining of fashion and skateboarding with the rise of brands like Palace, Supreme and the like?
I think it suits the culture of attitude, image and style. Those are all things that can be found in each of these individual subcultures – skateboarding, music, fashion, art and sport. And it just makes sense for all these things to be intertwined. I just did a capsule with Diamond; it was really cool how they came to me with all these ideas. They did a huge billboard on Melrose and Fairfax that blew me away: it was Grant Brittain’s photo of my doing a Christ Air and had a cutout of me suspended above the billboard. For those brands to identify with skateboarding as one of the main ingredients of this culture, and to want to market it to the tastemakers of the culture, the kids who create product and market and brand, all these people who have their finger on the pulse — that’s amazing. Watching everyone in our industry take chances — and sometimes you win and sometimes fail — it’s rad because that’s what it’s about, just pulling a trigger and creating something you love and seeing if the world loves it too. When they do love it that’s when you go, “I’m onto something. I’ve got my finger on the pulse and let’s keep this moving.” A lot of those guys (involved in the brands mentioned) are my friends; I’ve known them since they’ve started it’s been great to watch them grow and be a part of it, and see the evolution of these brands going and becoming a huge part of skateboarding but now fashion too. Brands come and go, but a lot of the time it’s the same people who are starting new adventures. It’s because their passion and love for this doesn’t go away. Its like me, I would still skateboard if there was no money in it, because its what I love.
Who are your favorite skaters right now?
That’s so hard because there’s so many! It’s way too for me to rattle them off because I’ll look back and wish I mentioned that person and this person. But I’ll always say that my favourite skateboarders are the ones who inspired me when I started – number one is Jay Adams. And of course Shogo Kubo; rest in peace to both of to them. Tony Alva. Dennis Agnew or Polar Bear. Pat Ngoho. These are the guys I skated with every day at Marina (Del Ray Skate Park). They mentored me and saw something in me and said, “hey you’re gonna be a ripper. You’ve got it.” They inspired me not only by their skating but with encouraging me that I could do it. I always honor those guys.
And of course Danny Way. He pioneered something that was my favourite thing and what I’m known for – doing big air. I broke records and was in tons of high air contests, but Danny Way doing the mega ramp is something else. When I first saw that I was in prison, and I was looking at a magazine photo of him doing a 20-plus-foot air on a 30-foot tall ramp and I remember thinking, “I wish I wasn’t in prison and I was with him right now.” That inspired me. And when I got out of prison, he actually told me that I inspired him to do it. Isn’t that something? For me to be a part of that — to cause someone to have a dream and make it a reality and do something so monumental and pioneering – just makes you go, “Wow.” Here’s a fun fact – I was pretty much his first sponsor when he was 10 years old. A friend of mine Dennis Martinez told me that this kid Danny would be a ripper, so he came out to Arizona on a trip and rode for Hosoi. And to see how far he’s gone and be a part of inspiring him to succeed in everything he’s done is something that makes me just go, “Wow.” He’s definitely one of my favourite skateboarders of all time. And how’s this for a story: The first X-Games was happening and I had just gotten out of prison that month. And Danny enters the first mega ramp competition doing a Christ Air. He gets off the ramp and says, “I did that for you,” and then he won the contest with that trick. You can only imagine how I felt being welcomed back by skateboarding after being locked up for five years. It was a heartfelt, amazing moment.
“(Skateboarding) is just so expressive and creative and cool. It has so much style and influences so many things.
What do you envision for Hosoi Skateboards in 2016? Are there any particular goals you are trying to achieve?
I’m trying to build the company to a be a real, competitive brand in the industry. I’m building a team; I’ve got some street skaters. Taylor Jett is riding for me: he’s on his way to being a world champion if he continues to progress and keep his head on straight. He has all the ingredients to be that. Freddy Yernst – he’s a kid who has his own creative approach to skateboarding and there’s something unique about that. He’s stylish and I’m all about style. These guys got incredible style. And then there’s a little kid — Lazer Crawford out in Arizona and he’s 10 years old. And our of 250 top ranking amateurs in our nation he recently placed 50th, and he’s only 10 years old! I sponsor Eddie Elguera – he’s in his 50s and he’s a legend. He just got inducted into the Hall of Fame and to have somebody that legendary riding for Hosoi and representing my brand, and then on the other hand to have a four-year-old year old in Japan who’s an absolute phenom. I’ve also got two girls riding for me; Jordan is 11 years old and another girl Cody in Hawaii who’s also 11. To have that spectrum riding for me – I really believe in our sport and the different categories whether it be legends, street skaters, kids, the next generation. I want to concentrate on them and support where they skateboard. We’re doing what it takes including doing a video, a Hosoi video. I’m going to making that, and start sponsoring more people. If you ride for Hosoi you’re going to see how you can go from being an amateur into a pro, having all the major sponsors look forward to sponsoring you because you’re being represented by Hosoi. I want that credibility and I believe that I offer that as a brand. Hosoi the brand is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and for me to still be here doing what I love and representing the dream that I had at 17; to be able to inspire those that come up and support my brand – the fans, the riders, the people I sponsor – just to continue writing the legacy and the book. It’s amazing for me.
I’m excited about all the ventures that I have including traveling with these kids and inspiring them to have a career. If I can mentor them and help them and nurture them to become world champions – ah! And even my own children, I mean, who knows. I have four children – James, Rhythm, Classic and Endless. Just watching them grow up its been amazing. My oldest has three children and he’s a family man. He loves music and art, just like his grandpa. That came without influence because I didn’t meet him until he was 18. And my 18 year old also skateboards. He’s a street skater; he does rails – he basically does everything I can’t do. He’ll go skate every few months and learn tricks like it’s nothing. Just very naturally gifted; it’s beautiful to watch. We’ll see with my younger two – possibly one of them could take skateboarding all the way. It’d be something I would enjoy but I don’t force them. I just show them that I love it and how I enjoy it and respect it and my part in it. They love it! When they say they want to be pro skateboarders when they get older, I’m jumping up and down inside like “sick!” (laughs)
What are some of the most memorable moments in your legendary career aside from inventing tricks like the Christ Air and Rocket Air?
I’ve been through some crazy things and to even be alive yet alone be sponsored by Vans and traveling around the world and raising my kids to follow their dreams is incredible. And my father – who has been living with me for the last little while – to be able to see him getting back in the industry, and people wanting his art, and how that has progressed from him doing my art in the beginning of my career. So many people grew up in dysfunctional homes and to have family where my mother and father supported me and my ambitions, that really propelled me be who I was and who I am today. And having them raise me to watch me become a world champion and to keep going through adversity; and then be able to take all that and raise my kids and support them and have them be involved—we are living in special times.
But I would definitely say that me going through difficult times but rising above them has been by far the most memorable thing. It’s through my faith in God; you brought up the Christ Air which is obviously a memorable moment but there came a point where I am now a believer in Christ and that just blew my mind. I invented that trick in 1985 and in 2000 I accepted God into my life. I’ve been sober since then; drugs ruined my life and took me to prison but through my relationship with God and falling in love with Christ – it’s changed my life. I love being a father and a husband and I’m committed to following through with my word. I’ve been completely changed and it started in my heart when I accepted God’s love in my life. That’s the most significant moment in my career and my life because I’ve never been the same. I really believe its not a coincidence; it’s a divine orchestration. Something supernatural.