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|Photos by Markus
Shaun White is the kid every kid wishes he could be.
If you’ve never heard of Shaun White, it’s probably reasonable to assume you won’t be attending the 10th installment of the ESPN X Games, here in downtown Los Angeles through Sunday. It’s a safe bet you’ve never been on a snowboard either, or, for that matter, a skateboard. If you have children of your own, your approval rating is suffering.
Consider for a moment the life of White, 17, of Carlsbad, California. His occupation (how many 17-year-olds have one?) is professional snowboarder/skateboarder. He’s won just about every major snowboarding competition outside of the Olympics (stay tuned). He is the first athlete to compete in both the summer and winter versions of the ESPN X Games (where he was named the Most Outstanding Athlete in winter ’03); he’s featured in Playstation’s Cool Boarders 4 video game; his first feature film, The Shaun White Album, is scheduled for release in September; and, thanks to sponsors like Burton, Oakley, Mountain Dew and Volcom, he owns a Lexus and three houses before even graduating from high school.
There is little irony in the fact that ESPN introduced the blockbuster action-sports Olympiad known as the X Games the same year that Burton Snowboards began sponsoring White, then 7. Or that in the decade since, the National Sporting Goods Association has consistently ranked snowboarding and skateboarding as the fastest-growing sports in the nation among 7- to 17-year-olds. Trading in their parents’ traditional ball games for the individuality, creativity and daring of contemporary action sports has become a hallmark of this generation, creating in the process a multibillion-dollar industry that has forced the world to both pay attention and pony up.
White doesn’t play team sports anymore. A soccer mom chased him off the field and into the X Games, where the grom once known as “Future Boy” has definitely arrived. Here’s what he had to say about it:
L.A. WEEKLY: What the hell is that “Cabo Wabo” stuff on your voice mail?
Are you playing guitar?
Almost a year. I love it. It’s so much fun. I went to the X Games and got Best Athlete of the Games, and they gave me a truck and a guitar. I didn’t play, so I was like, cool, I got a guitar, and I forgot about it. Then my brother started playing and bought one off the Internet that sucked, and I’m like, “Wait, I got a sweet Fender Stratocaster.” Now I can’t put it down. I’m a huge Metallica fan. We’re starting our band now.
Describe a typical day in the life of Shaun White.
Oh, man, the tough questions. Typical day is probably call up Tony [Hawk] or Bucky [Lasek] or somebody to go skate at Tony’s ramp or whatever. Then maybe go surfing. But some days are pretty hectic. That’s the mellow day. The worst day is when you have to go and shoot at the skate park and do a bunch of interviews, go home and get your stuff to fly to Vermont for a Burton meeting, then straight to Japan for a contest. I think traveling takes it out of you the hardest. But I say “chill and go skate” right now, because that’s all I’m going to do today.
Does that make you like the prototypical post-team-sports, anti-jock pro athlete?
I’m not anti, but I do enjoy skating or something way more than, like, baseball. I can’t do it. Running around the bases, and those pants they make you wear. I’m not into it. I used to be pretty good at soccer, but then I got way into skating, and something crazy happened when one of the other kids’ moms snapped on me for going to a game late and started yelling at me. It’s cool when it’s your mom, but when someone else’s mom snaps on you, it’s crazy.Are those sports still pretty big around there?Skating is getting bigger and bigger all the time, but those sports are still huge. You see all those soccer moms with “My son is better than your son” stickers and stuff, and it’s like, what’s going on?
I read somewhere that you and your dad call each other “dude”?
He probably calls me “dude,” but I call him “The Dude.” His name is Rodger, but we call him “The Rodge,” too. He loved that movie The Big Lebowski to the point that he actually refers to himself as The Dude or The Rodge. It’s bad.Does that make your upbringing less than “traditional”?[Laughs.] Definitely. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have such a good time with my family. They’re the ones who would take me out of school and drive me up to the mountains to go snowboarding. They’re pretty awesome parents.
So what have skating and snowboarding taught you?
Skating and snowboarding have really taught me about life. I’ve been around the world and haven’t seen all of it, but a lot of crazy places. You see how life is and how different and how hard it is for a lot of people. You see some crazy things out there. It’s just made me really happy. I feel superblessed to be doing what I’m doing right now. Everyone I meet is like, “I wish I could do that.” It’s given me a crazy appreciation for what I have.
So if there were no snowboarding or skating, what do you think you’d be doing?
I’d definitely be stuck in school for sure. My parents are huge on education, so I’d be in class every day. And since I found this new passion of guitar, I’d be shredding solos in the night. But snowboarding and skating, I’d find a way to do one.
How long do you plan on doing it?
As long as my knees are still good, and it really comes down to as long as it’s fun. When it becomes a “job,” then call it quits. I know tons of people who go to office jobs in cubicles and don’t like it much. But sometimes, I’m standing at the top of the X Games pipe and look down and say, “Dude, this is your job. You have to ride his pipe!” I love it. So as long as I can, I guess.
Did you ever think the X Games would get this big?
When I first started, I didn’t think about sponsors or anything, just “What can I jump off?” I think for me the crazy turning point was when somebody asked me to be in a video game. I basically lost my mind at that point. I never ever would have thought if I started skating and snowboarding, I could travel around the world and get paid to do it. We’re in the Olympics now. It’s insane.
As a kid at the epicenter, can you take some credit for that success?
I guess so. One of the things that kind of affected me was parents coming up to me and saying, “My son started skating because of you.” That’s pretty heavy.
Where would you like to see action sports go in the future?
I think in the future I’d love to see action sports go to where something like baseball has. But instead of baseball stadiums, we just get huge skate parks that are built in the stadium. Thing is, a lot of guys want to keep skating core [hardcore/pure] and all that. The way I see it, yeah, keep some core aspects to it, but big sponsors like Target in the end send big money back to the core and build more parks and ramps so we don’t get in trouble skating down the street and stuff. But I definitely think both sports are on their way to becoming huge things.
Do you get harassed for street skating?
Oh yeah. Skating with my brother, we get harassed by security guards all the time. One time we were snowboarding handrails in Utah, and somebody called the cops, and a guy showed up and was like, “I think I know you.” We ended up making buddies with the cop, and we took photos and stuff, and he let us finish hitting the rail.
Try to imagine yourself at 30. What do you see?
At age 30? Man, I just really hope to be like Tony [Hawk], my main influence. He’s still skating and still doing what he wants to, still having fun. That’s a tough one, 30?
Okay, how about 40?
I’ll have kids and stuff and be like, “I used to shred.” It’s going to be crazy.