Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 14, 2003 5:23 pm 
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Location: California/NYC

Awesome. . .bummer

Mark Anthony `Gator' Ragowski used to look like Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Dark hair, wild stoned eyes, huge grin, punk jock clothes, mocking gestures, obscene air of fun. In the early Eighties he was beyond doubt one of the greatest vertical skateboarders. He reflected one extreme edge of the skateboarding world and the punk hip hop style cultures that were whirling around at the time.

He was one of the fastest, strongest, most radical and inventive skateboarders at a moment when the sport was still growing and dominated by pioneers. When he punched a cop at a public skate event, his iconhood was assured.

Gator was so good he went professional at 14 and by the age of 17 he was making a hundred thousand dollars a year. Later the film tells us he made twenty thousand a month.

He was a superstar and he palled around with Christian Hosoi and they're both in jail now. Gator and Hosoi were both wild boy idols whose lives burned out flamboyantly after a flashy arc of fame and money; followed by a sudden decline no street kid with a board and some wheels could have dreamt of, let alone been ready for.

Now they're born again Bible thumping Christians, trying to stabilize themselves for life outside. But there's a big difference. Gator is in for 31 years to life for murder and Hosoi is just in on relatively minor drug charges and about to get out.

This film describes the moment in American culture and skateboarding that was the background for guys like Gator and Hosoi. It focuses on Gator's life, which indeed is a rise and fall. Those who have seen Dogtown and Z Boys remember there are stars from that time who have stable existences and profitable businesses (like Tony Hawk), others that are just eking out a life somewhere; and a few who crashed and burned or wound up in jail. Skateboarding is an independent, loner-friendly activity that appeals to misfits (like Kathryn Hepburn)/ Some of the careers in skateboarding, including the prominent ones represented by Gator and Hosoi, have had the kind of downward arc chronicled here.

This doc goes beyond Dogtown and Z Boys in history and implications by starting off in the Eighties when the exploitation of this once seemingly incorruptible and uncommercial activity was well on the way to becoming a bankable showy Team Swatch tour sponsored sporting event. Skateboarding in the Eighties became more stylish, more mainstream and, consequently, more surrounded by money. In particular an outfit called Vision Wear tried to take over and make a lot of business out of the popularity of the skateboard look. But that look had been by definition artisanal, individual, and oddball: you can't codify wild style or hip hop things. When Gator became the front man for Vision Wear he made a fool of himself. Vision Wear became too big, couldn't go with the flow, and bombed. And Vision Wear was part of Gator's ride to a fall.

Gator made such a splash maybe nobody in the public noticed his downward slide at first. He was always a confused insecure kid with missing parents and a rage problem. When he was co-opted by tours and corporations and Vision Wear he bought the lie. He first became an asshole, then an idiot, and finally a perverted murderer. On the way he did some fabulous skateboarding and had a lot of fun. He went on wild escapades with fellow bad boy Hosoi. When the money was rolling in at high speed he built a big round house out by avocado groves where a lot of rich skateboarders moved. But there was nothing to do there and Gator's isolation became magnified. His relationship with his girlfriend, Brandi, was less stable and grounded than with his earlier girlfriend. Brandi, who speaks often on camera for the film, was more of a trophy blonde than a viable future mate and her relationship with Gator deteriorated and she left him for a handsome blond surfer hunk.

Stunned by this abandonment and mired in the economic downturn of the Gulf War I days and the move to street skating whose horizontal style he was not attuned to, Gator withdrew into himself. He wound up pursuing and entrapping a young woman friend of Brandi's. The girl died and he hid the body out in the desert but then it was dug up and Gator went to jail. He denied guilt but during the trial he went belly up and confessed. Phone interview excerpts show that he is reformed and close to his mother, and jail sure enough has made him grow up and gain perspective on life. Mark Anthony Rogowski, who at one point abandoned his name and called himself `Mark Anthony,' is finding himself but now he just looks like an ordinary guy. His isn't a happy story. It's a story of childhood problems never properly confronted and of a rapid decline when fame and money were more than he could handle. Skateboard stars, one of them says on the film, had a short early time in the sun. When you start being famous at fourteen and begin declining in your early twenties, you can crash hard, and Gator crashed hard.

As a package, Stoked makes sense. It does two things: it talks about the skateboarding world as Dogtown and other films have done, but it begins at a later, more advanced, stage and anchors itself in the story of Gator Rogowski. His downfall isn't just a cautionary tale. It helps you get deeply enough inside a single important figure of the skateboarding world to understand better what the life was like, how early it could bring fame and excitement, where the people came from and where it all sometimes could end. From an interview with Christian Hosoi, in jail but still in touch with the skateboard world, it's clear that these lifestyle problems live on among the younger skaters. Hosoi has pledged himself to be a positive example and not just an icon when he gets out.

* * * * * * * * *
Listen to a phone interview by younger skatestar Jay Hakkinen with Christian Hosoi in San Bernadino jail in 2001:

Shirtless Hosoi for ’80s Jimmy Z ad

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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