Whether the army of anonymous internet haters want it or not, Shaun White is the product of what modern day snowboarding has evolved to. Global product lines, video games, gold medals and late night talk show appearances; all while maintaining a level of competitive dominance and progression that all but him thought impossible. It’s hard to imagine anyone else navigating the pitfalls that come with the level of fame, success and pressure better than Shaun White.
To exist on the level he does and not disrespect snowboarding with bogus gimmicks, endorsements or the lure of the ‘extreme’ dollar is a feat many of his detractors ignore. Yet Shaun White is a polarizing figure within a community that pretends it still holds the same ideals as it did in its infancy. The truth is, Shaun White is snowboarding now and as I found out, he’s just fine with that responsibility.
Words by Rick Baker.
Shaun White on the tarmac in Salzberg, Austria. Photo: Gabe L’Heureux.
Shaun, thanks for taking the time to talk to some Australians when I’m sure everyone wants to talk Olympics with you. I remember playing Singstar with you on Torah’s Playstation one Christmas Eve a few years ago. Crazy, now you both have gold medals. Did you get to talk to Torah after her win?
Unfortunately no, we didn’t get to compete on the same night, so our schedules were completely different. After your event you’re basically whisked all through town for media and events, it’s really just a blur. Scotty [Lago] and I got one night of having fun, then we were off again.
Well congratulations on the win. Forget the whole snowboarding thing for a second, that ‘victory lap’ has got to be up there as one of the best sporting performances of all time. What impressed me the most was not only the technical tricks and amplitude, but that you were able to have all that preparation and training come together on that final lap. You hear ‘athletes’ talk about peaking at the right time but you make it seem like you’re not even aware of that shit. Without sounding arrogant, were you even tested by anyone out there that day or where you just up against yourself?
For me, it’s all about an internal competition. I have been this way since I was a tiny little kid competing on the soccer field. It’s not about beating anyone else out there, it’s just about being better than myself. I know that I gave it my all at the Olympics, if someone had beat me it would have been disappointing, but I would have been OK because I know that I gave it my all. Everyone was riding great that day, I was stoked for everyone and honestly was blown away by the level of riding.
The reason I’m asking that is because, at least from my perspective all the way down here in the middle of an Australian summer, Danny Davis’ run at Mammoth was perhaps the only time you’ve looked threatened in the past few years. You’re obviously aware that people love to ‘root’ for the underdog, especially in snowboarding. However it looked like for the first time in years someone was bringing it to you and it wasn’t because of a mistake or you taking it easy that you lost that one. Danny was just better on the day. For someone as talented and competitive as you, I would imagine that challenge would be rad in a strange kinda’ way.
It really was and I was so stoked that it happened. The very next day I was at the pipe working on a new run, modifying to go bigger and push myself more. Danny beating me gave me the extra motivation that I needed to push on. His run was great, and I learned that I needed more to push forward.
There was a lot of discussion on our site about The Red Bull Project X pipe; about whether it was fair for a rider to get a facility like that. Obviously that’s a huge advantage for you during training – especially being so recognisable, it would make it difficult to have a focussed session in an open resort, but have you copped any heat for that?
Definitely, but there’s not much that I can do about it. It can get tough for me to ride at a resort, especially when you are there for a couple weeks trying new tricks and riding. Everyone knows in town, then it spreads out, which is really cool but tough when you need to focus. It’s really amazing that Red Bull supported me enough to make a heavy investment in my progression, it really means a lot to me.
Method over fans in Aspen, Colorado. Photo: Adam Moran.
Do you feel that you’ve ‘done’ halfpipe now? Is it challenging for you anymore on a mental level? You’ve already made your own movie, yet you’ve got Gabe (of People Creative fame) filming with you full time now, is that going to be your focus? What do you want to do next? A full rail part wearing jeans?!
[Laughs] Hell yeah man! No, the level of pipe riding has definitely reached an amazing plateau of progression, and it’s beginning to slow down for now. We will see how next season pans out, but I’m still catching my breath from this season, the Games, and starting to think about skateboarding.
Something I find bizarre is that you seem to polarize so much of ‘core’ snowboarding. Whether it’s because of your competitive nature or endorsements or whatever, snowboarders just can’t seem to decide if you’re a sell-out or if you’re ‘legit’. Yet you maintain such a control and steady hand on everything you touch that is related to snowboarding, I would argue you have more respect for the sport than anyone. Do you feel a responsibility to protect snowboarding as you see it?
Totally, it’s impossibly difficult for anyone to know how hard we work to make sure the companies that I work with respect the sport. Imagine looking at a group of business and creative guys, selling you on a pitch that you know is going to make snowboarding look stupid, and then telling them that it’s not going to work and that they need to modify it, or that I’m going to pass. In the end, I want to make sure that if it’s my role right now to be the spokesman, that I try my hardest to live up to that.
Tony Hawk was talking you up in an interview we did with him late last year; he thinks really highly of you. Watching his Twitter feed leading up to the halfpipe finals, he was cheering like crazy for you. How did that friendship come about?
It came from growing up skating at the Encinitas YMCA. I was like seven when I started to skate vert and the only other dudes at the ramp were Tony, Bucky, and Kevin Stabb. We were always there and friendships started to form. From there, Tony and I would always talk, and he has helped me with advice and experience, which means a lot to me.
Do you think growing up skating vert like you have gives you much of an edge on snow? I’m trying to find a reason, besides balls of steel, why you seem to go so much bigger than everyone else.
I don’t know, I think skating just keeps it fresh for me. I don’t think about snowboarding all year, so when I come back to it I’m excited to get back onto the hill. That has helped me keep focused and push myself a little bit harder.
Another Method, this one during practice at the Olympic Games. Cypress Mountain, Canada. Photo: Dan Himbrecths.
Tony was saying you had something ‘as yet unseen’ at the Olympics. A little premature given that the Olympics just ended and you killed it, but what have you got? Double Alley-Oop rodeo?
[Laughs] A gentleman never tells! I worked on a couple tricks that I need to revisit. I hate it when I do a trick and it’s not clean, so that is why I try to wait till I have something down before I start bringing it out.
Again, Tony put you in it and said you had landed a 10 on an oversized ramp. Now that the Olympics are done, will you be at Summer X Games?
Tony! You are killing me man! I’m just going to keep it fun this summer. No real plans yet that is for sure.
Are you tempted to hit the Mega Ramp yet? I know you’ve said in the past that you hate anything that can be defined as more spectacle than sport but surely there’s some things you’d want to try on there? Clean sweep of Summer and Winter X Games perhaps?
Naw, I just can’t see myself getting into that. I only get to skate during the summers so I try to skate what I love which is park and vert. I’m hoping to get some skate trips in this summer and shred some fun parks.
1260 Double McTwist at Park City, Utah. Photo: Blotto.
Then perhaps film some more for Birdhouse then? The setting for your part in The Beginning was amazing but I heard it was a bit trying to film out there.
Man alive, it was hot as balls out there. Skating all day with the crew was gnarly. There is no backing down when you’re in the desert and there’s Tony, Bucky, and a whole film crew. It was super fun being out there and pushing each other. It was my first time filming for a skate part, it’s really challenging – you can see how much work goes into landing just one heavy trick. It really makes you appreciate what everyone goes through for a skate part.
Coming back to our little Singstar moment with Abi and Torah, how’s music treating you these days? You’ve been doing the rounds of talk shows and late night TV, anymore invitations to jam with Slash?
Slash is just cool man, I have run into him here and there which is rad. He has two kids that are down for skating, and he used to BMX, so he is really supportive of the sport and culture. I love playing music, it’s a great way to escape without ever leaving your room. Being able to jam out is awesome, but I’m still way too into skating and snowboarding to ever leave the sports.
You just met the President. Is Obama as rad as we all think he is? Tell us about how that went down.
He is so cool man, him and Biden rock for sure. He invited the Olympic team to the Whitehouse for a tour and to hang. I met Biden before in Vancouver, so he remembered me and we got to catch up. Then he introduced me to the President who had some really nice things to say. I also had an amazing BLT sandwich, but that is another story.
Frontside 540 Stalefish, Olympic Games, Cypress Mountain, Canada. Photo: Dan Himbrecths.
What about girls? For the benefit of dirtbag snowboarders everywhere, you better be making use of that gold medal!
[Laughs] I bet you would like to know.
I know that your lifestyle isn’t going to be 100% beer and skittles but let us in on the best aspects… What’s the best part of Shaun White’s life outside of snowboarding and skating?
It’s cool just being able to share the perks with my friends and family. We all work hard at what we do, so it’s a great treat to be able to hook up those around me.
Well thanks again for your time Shaun, it’s down right inspiring to talk to you and I hope you can come back to Australia again.
[This article originally appeared in Issue 15 of Pop Magazine].