Chat shows? Movies? A sitcom with Shaquille O’Neal? Place your bets and pick his next big move. After winning the Olympics and conquering mainstream America, Shaun White is ready to take on the world.
How happy do you think Shaun White is right now? Well, according to the Olympic gold medallist himself, he is around an eight out of ten. “Things were crazy after the Olympics ended,” he says. “I flew straight out of Italy into a media beast. It was so much fun but also a lot of work. Things now are mellowing out. I’m finally home, spending some time skateboarding and getting ready for the summer.”
Shaun White, pro snowboarder at the age of thirteen, the only athlete to ever podium at both the Winter and Summer X Games for two different sports, and without doubt the rider with the most gold medals in the history of snowboarding, is no ordinary nineteen-year-old. With a signature model for almost everything other than his underpants, White is as much a brand as any athlete has ever been.
But it wasn’t until his sweep to gold in the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics that his life really changed. Overnight, Shaun went from a snowboard mag regular to a mainstream, primetime TV, your-grandmother-knows-his-name-type star. It was, as he says, “pretty crazy”.
Although not your typical Olympian, it was Olympic glory that thrust Shaun and his huge flop of red hair into fame on several huge-rating chat shows Stateside. He says: “I got a call from Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal) the other day. He wants to make a TV show where he is a used car salesman that has super powers and helps to save the world from the evil menace Anus man. The script is tight, so it might be a go!”
Shaun is fast establishing himself as something of a rock star. A recent photo to hit my inbox confirms it: it showed Pamela Anderson, in all her bountiful glory, hanging off Shaun White’s arm. Oh, and there’s also the rumour mill of a date with Hollywood sweetheart Lindsay Lohan. True or not, who would argue that this puts Shaun in a league of his own? He takes the modesty stand on this one, though: “People are just into snowboarding now. It’s pretty funny meeting all these peeps, but they are just interested in the sport.”
This all leads us to the question: exactly what is the Shaun White ‘magic’? “I think it has to do with the fact that I have gills on my back. Yep, I’m a mutant like Kevin Costner in Waterworld. I was at sea for the last eighteen years, and now that I’ve found land I’m so happy. All I do is bake cakes in the shape of land masses. How I love cake.” I hope that serves to enlighten you.
Of course, we can’t overlook the fact that Shaun is not only a golden veteran in halfpipe and slopestyle in the Winter X Games, but last summer he also took home silver in the Summer X Games for skateboarding. It takes an enormous amount of talent to be at the top of your game in one sport, let alone two. Could he really be a red-headed mutant? “I think that [the Summer X Games] was one of my most memorable contests. That summer I spent every day on the ramp so motivated to do well, and to have it come true, I was so stoked.”
And the magic doesn’t just end with his dedication and professionalism. Shaun’s smiling freckled face and copious ginger mop, coupled with his ridiculous humour, leave a lasting imprint on everyone he meets. Girls dig him, he is a sponsor’s dream and team mates always have a good word to say about Master White. Which is surprising seeing as he whips their arse in nearly every single contest. While I’m on that point, isn’t it time he gave other riders a chance to get gold again?
“That’s the thing. I have to work really hard to be able to win. It’s not like in the summer I’m just mellow eating ice cream and watching Girls Gone Wild videos. So when I get up to the mountain, it might look easy, but I have to put in a lot of work. Riders like Mason Aguirre and Danny Davis are stepping it up daily. It’s getting crazy on the streets.”
All the same, you can’t help but wonder how an athlete finds motivation when he knows he is still pretty much guaranteed to take gold in every slopestyle and halfpipe contest he enters. It can’t just be the winning. That grows old after a while, as does the prize booty when you are in Shaun’s league.
Says White: “Every contest is a new day, and there is no way I just step up to a contest and be like, ‘It’s mine!’ Riders are so talented and every pipe is different, I just treat every contest like it’s my first, like I want it so bad, and then give it my all. I’m that way with everything, you should see me play Monopoly, it gets nasty.”
So with the additional pressure of living up to his golden status, does he still have time to snowboard for fun? “I love to snowboard now as much as I did when I first started. Pushing myself to do better and to progress is why I love to snowboard. If I wasn’t having fun, I would just focus on skateboarding.”
And in five year’s time? “I want to be snowboarding and skateboarding at a professional level. Honestly, I love what I do. There is no alternative motive, like starring in a movie with Vin Diesel, I just love what I do.”
I can’t help, however, but labour the point with him. Shaun has not yet hit twenty. He has enough financial security and fame to last him several lifetimes. He has now proved that he is the world’s best halfpipe rider and his talent on a skateboard is driving people to compare him to Tony Hawk. So where, honestly, do you go from here?
“There is still so much to do. I want to open a car wash and employ only hot eighteen-year-old girls. I want to buy a dolphin and teach it to play Monopoly. Then, if it beats me, I’m going to eat it. Hahaha, yes, the future is so bright.”