In August, Christian Hosoi climbed on a skateboard in front of an audience. To ramp dwellers of a certain age, that sentence may sound like the equivalent of 'Last September, there was an actor who entertained in a theater,â?� for it would seem impossible to envision Hosoi anywhere but on a skateboard in front of an audience.
Hosoi's outrageously stylized skating and personality made him one of two pre-eminent faces from the second big wave of professional skateboarders. The original '70s residents of Dogtown like Bob Biniak, Stacy Peralta and Tony Alva are justifiably credited with revolutionizing skateboarding by injecting both wild-eyed physical artistry and a punk-rock, DIY ethos into it. There were two skaters in the '80s, however, who took the lessons of the Z-Boys and made skateboarding as popular as it was cool: Tony Hawk and Christian Hosoi.
In skate parks all across the world (most of which sprung up to remedy the damage that rogue Dogtown-emulating skaters were doing to empty swimming pools), shaggy-haired rebels on brightly painted boards continually strove to re-create the Hawk or Hosoi moves they saw on cover after cover of Thrasher magazine. The rivalry between the two skaters was ' for those same skaters of a certain age ' legendary and long-lived. Unlike many professional duels, this one was less about personal animus or one-upmanship than it was the result of two divergent ways of hitting the ramp. Hawk's approach emphasized impressive tricks, while Hosoi's flamboyant style was about fluid, vertical motion. Both styles defined the era and moved skating toward greater popularity, but it was Hosoi's sunglasses-cool, rock-star attitude that made him the skater all the kids wanted to be ... or be with.
The words 'rock starâ?� are uttered no less than two dozen times in the recently released film Rising Son, and a montage of several different scenesters (including Hawk) chiming in with that same phrase about Hosoi gives an indication as to the pervasiveness of the skater's reputation. Watching Hosoi skate ' and there are ample opportunities to do that in Rising Son ' unequivocally seals the deal for anyone who doubts that Hosoi was the coolest skater of the '80s. His stoned grin, flowing hair, devastating Hawaiian handsomeness and easygoing confidence made him look like a carefree pretty-boy ' until he went into action. The airborne arc of his body ' one hand on his board, the other hand extended skyward ' while floating effortlessly several feet above a ramp seemed the sole province of a superhuman skateboarder. As the best 'vertâ?� skater around, Hosoi owned the skies.
Telling the tale of Hosoi's dominance of '80s skateboarding, his spiral into self-destruction when the sport changed and his eventual spiritual rebirth, Rising Son fails at a major objective of a documentary: It would never engage a viewer unfamiliar with the milieu in which it's set. Skating jargon flies fast and furious out of the mouths of pros like Jay Adams and Shogo Kubo, and the narration (by Dennis Hopper) does little to contextualize the happening.
For those skaters of a certain age, though, Rising Son is like a documentary on Jesus, George Washington and Superman rolled up in one; the 'storyâ?� is already well-known and the players are too, but the thrill of seeing Superman save the earth or Jesus do a Jesus trick (which, in Hosoi's case, would be his eponymous 'Christ Airâ?�) is absolutely unbeatable. Fully aware of this, director Cesario MontaÃ±o spends the bulk of the film in the '80s, when Hosoi's star was at its brightest. The interviews with his contemporaries reveal how revered he was and, in some cases, how contemptuous and jealous other skaters were of him. (Even the envious ones have their bitterness clouded by respect for Hosoi's skills.) As a teenager touring the world, smoking dope, getting laid and making tons of money, Hosoi probably deserved the envy he inspired, but his personable manner and generosity made it hard to hate him.
Then there's the fall and the rebirth parts of the film, both of which MontaÃ±o crams into the last quarter of the picture. When street skating in the late '80s overtook the popularity of Hosoi's ramp approach, he gamely kept up, but his hard-partying ways and eventual heavy use of crystal meth ultimately drove him to the moment that ended his career. While some would say that it was the big bust at the Honolulu airport for distribution-quantity amounts of meth, it happened earlier than that. In 1995, while in Japan for a demo with Hawk (whose trick-skating had also put him out of fashion among skaters), Hosoi was offered the opportunity to rekindle their rivalry at the debut X Games. He agreed, but never showed up. Hawk did and essentially reinvigorated interest in ramp skating and him. In 1999, Hawk's first video game was released. In 2000, Hosoi was sentenced to 10 years in jail for trafficking. Through the love of a good woman, he found Jesus, got released from prison six years early and is now embarking upon a comeback.
MontaÃ±o does an excellent job of exploiting the warm nostalgia that so many skaters feel for Hosoi. He should also be lauded for the light touch he uses when dealing with Hosoi's religious awakening. Like the subject of the movie, the transformation comes off feeling natural, not sappy or like a too-perfect ending. So, back to August: When Hosoi stepped on a skateboard in front of an audience, it was a big deal, and Rising Son makes it abundantly clear why.