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A Skate Rat Grows Up : The 'Agro' Business of Skateboard Mogul Christian Hosoi

March 01, 1987|Paula Ballo | Paula Ballo is a California artist.

THE FIRST THING IS THE ATTITUDE: studied distraction and sullenness bordering on a sneer. Christian Hosoi wears it easily, like the fluorescent plastic watches and oversize sportswear he models for Swatch and Jimmy'Z. Outside a late-night club in downtown Los Angeles, he and three friends arrange themselves for a photographer, Hosoi at the center of a street-gang tableau. Turn the other direction, the photographer suggests. "Uh-uh," Hosoi says curtly. He knows how to pose.

Then there's the move--the taut, nervous lope that threatens to erupt in a burst of energy as he ducks into a shop on Melrose Avenue or inspects the products at a skateboard factory. His short legs give him a low center of gravity--just what he needs to launch into one of the death-defying, land-on-his-feet flips he tosses off in skateboard competitions around the world.

Finally there is the speech, with its echoes of Venice Beach, where he skates with his friends--bits of skateboard esoterica knit together with "ya know"s when the words fail. "It's fun to skate to Metallica or to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest," Hosoi says, ticking off the names of three heavy-metal bands. "That type of stuff gets you amped out to do stuff. It just gets you in the mood to get 'agro' (aggressive) or something like that. Ya know?"

Christian Hosoi is an oh-so-hip, tightly muscled, 5-foot-6 blend of exceptional athlete, teen cult figure, savvy businessman and out-to-party 19-year-old. Under the guidance of his parents, he has transformed his top-five National Skateboard Assn. ranking into a minor financial empire in which promotional appearances, fashion endorsements and his own skateboard line are expected to earn him about $150,000 this year. Like skateboarding itself, he has moved beyond a rebellious, street-punk image and gone thoroughly pro. No longer is skateboarding the sole province of landlocked "surfies" doing bloodcurdling flips on backyard ramps. Skating has grown up, and Hosoi is one of its few children to have recognized the sport's marketing potential.

Lately, his fans have taken to calling him Christ--as in Jesus but short for Christian. He is pictured in the skateboard magazine, Thrasher, lost behind dark glasses and a crowd of teen-age girls. "Christ surrounded by admirers only moments before they lost control," the caption says. On a promotional trip to Brazil, he was disappointed that he couldn't visit the mountain of Corcovado, from which Christ the Redeemer towers over Rio de Janeiro. The enormous white statue has given Hosoi an idea for a new skating trick. He vaults into the air, feet together and pointed down, arms outstretched to his fans in benediction.

"HEY, POPS! WHAT STREET WAS I BORN ON?"Hosoi yells from an office at Santa Cruz Skateboards in Soquel, where his Hosoi line and those of other top skating pros are made.

"Beachwood," answers Ivan Hosoi, who affects the same loose-fitting surf wear as his son. "In an old house right underneath the Hollywood sign."

"Killer," Hosoi says. "But I moved to Hawaii when I was 7 for a year and a half, and I went to second grade there and started skating. My dad made one of my first skateboards out of fiberglass from a surfboard mold." The family returned to Los Angeles in 1975. "Then on Dec. 28, 1978," he continues, "the Marina Skatepark (formerly in Marina del Rey) opened, and all the pros were there. I went there on opening day and kept going every weekend. I was just a grommet hanging out. A little skate rat."

The skate rat practiced, went professional in 1982 at age 14, and in 1985 Christian Hosoi Enterprises Inc. was born. It's a family business, even though his parents are now divorced. Hosoi's mother, Pua, "does the bookkeeping, and she takes care of the secretarial stuff," he explains. "My dad and I do the promotional stuff. He does the designing and the managing. Plus Santa Cruz Skateboards takes care of the manufacturing and distribution. We design our own graphics. I come up with the concepts, and my dad draws them"

When he isn't on the road, Hosoi alternates between living at the Los Angeles homes of his mother and father. But today he's at Santa Cruz to test a new board. He wears an unbuttoned red-and-black shirt with a bold geometric design over baggy white cotton pants. His black Puma high-top tennis shoes have thick red laces, and he has two Swatches on his wrist and a mother-of-pearl cross around his neck.

"Tim will cut this form out for you today so that you can try it out," Ivan Hosoi says, handing his son a crude skateboard form. Hosoi fondles the wood, then suddenly jumps on it, rocking back and forth in low knee bends. The next moment he plops onto his back on the floor, his feet flipping the skateboard in the air like a pancake.

Tim Piumarta, vice president of Santa Cruz Skateboards, looks on casually, as though such writhing is natural. "This gives you what you wanted--a longer tail and a longer board," he says. "How does it feel?"

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