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If you don't know the difference between a kickflip and a backside 180, the name Christian Hosoi might not mean much to you. But to the skateboard culture he is the sport's high-flying Michael Jordan—an aerial revolutionary credited with reviving boarding in the 1980s and taking it to extreme heights.

A celebrated rival of Tony Hawk ("Christian was the air, the showman. I was the technician," Hawk says), Hosoi's knack for turning empty swimming pools into center stage quickly propelled him to rock star-like celebrity. Magazine covers. Pepsi commercials. A Beastie Boys video. Not to mention fast cars, casual relationships and dangerous drugs. "I was partying and going to clubs, doing a bunch of meth and Ecstasy," he told Sports Illustrated. "I was flying, and you know I was never afraid of flying high."

When Christian fell, he landed hard. Busted in 2000 for possession of 24 ounces of crystal meth with intent to distribute, the 32-year-old skate god would spend 4 1/2 years in prison, but not before turning his life over to Jesus Christ. Today he's a changed man, one who talked about his journey with Plugged In:

You got your first sponsorship by age 12 and were a professional skater at 13. How did that impact your teen years and the choices that followed?
When I went to school everyone knew me. I became successful at such a young age—making up to $2,000 a month—that I started jet-setting around the world at 15 years old. I owned my own company at 17. The industry was small at the time, but then it blew up. What came with it was all the worldly things, such as women and drugs. I lived in Hollywood and, as I continued in that lifestyle into my twenties, I got into heavier drugs. That's when crystal meth entered my life and I started spiraling out of control.

How did God get your attention?
My wife, Jennifer, who was my girlfriend at the time, told me prior to my arrest that she was quitting drugs and going to church. When I got arrested I told her I didn't think I could handle 10 years in prison. She said, "Christian, we're going to try to make this, but we have to trust in God." I thought, What? I need a lawyer. What do you mean 'trust in God'? I knew we wouldn't be able to talk much; I only got 10 minutes on the phone every two days. So that very moment I got on my knees and prayed for Jesus to help me.

Is that when you started reading Scripture?
Yeah. At 31 years old, for the first time in my life, I'm opening up the Bible. I'd been nicknamed Christ since I was 15, made up the "Christ Air," and there I am finally trying to figure out who Christ was. I asked one of the brothers in the tank, and he said I had to read the Gospels and Jesus' account, because that's where salvation is. Two weeks later my uncle led me to the Lord over the phone.

Has your view of the more extreme, rebellious aspects of the skateboarding culture changed?
We're part of the generation that invented the rebellious punk attitude. I was one of the first to really blow it out of proportion. Looking back, I was grieved by it. When Jesus came into my life, I had to repent of a lot of stuff.

Now you're committed to sharing Jesus with young people in that world.
That's my mission in life now. When we are fishing for men, we need to be discerning about what will draw men into a place where we can catch them. So many good people are going to be disappointed when they get to the Judgment Seat. They are going to be like, "I've done everything." And God will say, "But what did you do with my name?" What did they do with Jesus Christ? That's why I want to go out and spread the love of Jesus and His salvation to as many people as I can, and use everything I've gone through to enter into their hearts and, hopefully, turn them into lovers of God.

Since skating looks to be a big part of that, how are your skills these days?
I didn't step on a board until I got released [from prison]. I got a knee injury after not skating for a couple of years, but I've had it repaired. I'm already busting some pretty big airs right now. By the grace of God, you know I'm going to be pulling the biggest airs that Jesus Christ will let me!

Published May 2005