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“...and Tom Cruise just turned round and hugged me.” Coming from any other 20-year-old, this would sound far-fetched. But Shaun White isn’t your average 20-year-old. This is the god of snowboarding, worshipped by thousands whose religion is the slopes. Nicknamed the flying tomato – courtesy of his flaming red hair, White is the current undisputed snowboard champion. Off the slopes, he is a fierce young entrepreneur, designing his own clothing line with multimillion-dollar company Burton. His grounded attitude, along with his self-deprecating humour, is typical of a humble, well-raised young man who can’t quite believe his luck. His enthusiasm is contagious – he shoots up out of his chair when regaling stories from the past. At 14, he won his first championship, and at 19, he took Olympic gold in Turin; the eighth golden nugget in his arsenal. In 2006, he won every major title going. He began life trailing his big brother Jessie on a skateboard. He moved on to snowboarding at the age of six. Too young to take lessons, White’s dad taught him how to board. His concerned mother wanted to slow him down so told him to “ride switch” (backwards), this inadvertently upped his game.
Another Man: Is your talent nature or nurture? Shaun White: I could always just set my mind to it, see the trick in my mind and then do it. Sibling rivalry had a lot to do with it. My older brother was really good and talented, and I was just constantly battling to be better than him. It’s also about being competitive – I’ve got to win, that’s all I cared about, even when I was younger. I remember being pitted against these kids. We’re all homies now, but when I was younger I was like, ‘It’s all out war.’ I would see them in a new product, that I didn’t have, and I was just like, ‘Ohh,’ and I would get jealous thinking another kid was gonna like take my place... and you know, kids can be brutal. Anyway, I’d go and take it out on the snow. It’s just about being competitive. My dad’s crazy competitive, I guess it runs in the family. All those things made me a better rider. AM: So, your family bonding sessions took place on the slopes as opposed to round the dinner table. Do you still ride together? SW: It’s harder nowadays, just because I’m doing so much. Christmas is our time. Back in the day, we’d all pile in a van and sleep at Motel 6 in Aspen, like, (laughs) you know, five of us in one room. I swear that’s why I appreciate it so much. Today, I find myself in this crazy fancy hotel room with a little fruit basket waiting for me. I’m like, ‘How rad is this?’ Shit’s changed. But I wouldn’t go back and do a single thing different. I swear those were the best times ever, like camping out in Whistler and having bears cruise by the van. Oh shit, that was terrifying... AM: Hide the doughnuts! SW: Yeah, totally. AM: How was the Olympic experience? SW: I didn’t really know what to expect. I had no clue. I just knew I had to win. All I remember during the event was thinking, ‘How am I ever going to let myself lose?’ I’m so competitive. AM: Well, it paid off. I heard you were going to melt down your gold medal, did you? SW: Dude, not yet. I went on a trip to do some TV shows, and they wanted to see it. So I took it with me, and let my agent hang on to it, because I thought he would be more responsible than me. A week later, I texted him, ‘Do you have my medal?’ And he said, ‘Do I have what?’ He ran and checked and told me it was in his dresser. He’d come to my house about five times, and every time, forgot to bring it. So, in the back of my mind, I’m kinda like, ‘Maybe he lost it.’ He’s trying to like... AM: ...buy you a new one. SW: Yeah, he’s trying to fix things, like when a little kid’s hamster dies and you have to get a new one. So, finally, finally, he brought it to my house. Now, it’s stashed under my bed. AM: You snowboarders looked like you were the only ones who were having fun at Torino, you didn’t look very ‘Olympian’. How did the other athletes treat you? SW: You would have died if you’d seen us when we first showed up. We were getting off the plane all like, ‘Haaaa’, ‘You guys hey, bon journo!’
A couple of days after you arrive you have to go through what’s called ‘processing’, when you get the official USA outfits. But there was a day or so when we wore normal clothes. I was in the athletes’ cafeteria... wearing ripped-up jeans, skate shoes and a t-shirt with a stain on it, my hair was huge and straight up, nobody wanted to sit near us. They were like, (whispering) ‘What the fuck, who are these dudes?’ Somebody even came up to me to check my credentials. AM: How did winning the gold affect your life? SW: People clapped in airports! AM: Is that when you first realised you were famous? SW: Yeah, that and when Tom Cruise turned round and hugged me. It’s weird, you find celebrities know your name and act really familiar, like you’re long lost friends. AM: How does the general public treat you? SW: I have the best fans, overseas they are very passionate. I once travelled to Germany and these kids just freaked out. We came out of the TRL studios, and this little girl ran up to me, and just started crying, and I felt real bad, so I hugged her, and she cried even more. AM: So fame can get too much? SW: Yeah, especially in Japan. Japan’s too much. I need bodyguards there. The Japanese fans get really excited and there are so many of them, it all escalates really quickly. Somebody will touch your jacket, and then somebody will see that person touch the jacket, so they’ll rub it. And the next person is touching your hair. Once I got pushed into a crowd, and somebody took my belt off, and someone else’s hand was in my pocket, I was thinking, ’What’s happening? Get me outta here!’ AM: Do you read your fan mail? Do you reply personally? SW: Yes, I got this slew of letters after the Olympics, which was a trip because before I’d been getting five letters here or there, then I came home to boxes full of fan mail, and some crazy stories, some were really heavy. Especially once other kids found out that I had a heart condition when I was younger. There was one kid going in for the same procedure I had, but my condition had been worse, which the kid was stoked about. It was a ‘If he can do it, I can do it!’ sort of thing. AM: Your signature boarding look – bandana across the mouth, bandit style, is copied on mountains the world over. SW: That came about by accident. I wore a mask when I was younger because I’d always got crazy sunburn – having red hair, I just fry. I was up the mountain one time and this girl borrowed my sunscreen and didn’t give it back. Rather than leave the mountain, I said, ‘Let’s just rip off our t-shirt sleeves and use those.’ I didn’t get burnt so thought I would just keep wearing them. And then without really thinking, I wore it at the X Games. And when I came off the hill the next day there were these little kids everywhere wearing masks and I was like, ‘Yeah, my own little army.’ I loved it. AM: How did your own clothing line with Burton come about? SW: It was really weird. To start with, I had my pro model board. And after two years they came to me saying, ‘We want to do a pro model helmet.’ Ever since I’ve been snowboarding, I’ve always worn a helmet. I thought that was super important because there are tonnes of little kids looking up to me. I’ve been told countless times to take it off, but I just thought, ‘I’m just going to do my thing.’ I’ve hit my head on handrails and all kinds of stuff. So I said to Burton, ‘Yeah sure, but I want my brother to draw the graphics.’ And we mocked it up on the helmet and it looked amazing. So they came back and said, ‘Okay, we want to do a pro model boot.’ At that point, no one had ever had anything pro model except for a board. I was trippin’. The boot sold out within an hour at the trade show. From there, they asked us if we wanted to do a whole line. AM: What’s new for 2008? SW: ‘Puff the Magic Jacket’. It’s a puffa jacket and the inside details are graphics of zeppelins. It’s all tripped out, super-funny looking. AM: Did you know you get more hits than Nelson Mandela on Google? SW: Heeeyyy, comin’ up!
Styling Gabriele Feliciano Hair Hallie Bowman at the Wall Group
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