Imagine skiing at age four, snowboarding at six, then winning world championships, X Games and Olympic medals. Where do you go from there?
Try developing your own clothing line . . . video game . . . kids snowboard line . . . winning some ESPY Awards . . . making sunglasses for Oakley, and the list goes on! These are just a few of the things on snowboarder Shaun White's resume. Not to mention helping with St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital Target House for kids needing long-term treatment. (Shaun had two major heart surgeries as a baby to correct a heart defect. Ever since, he's kept things pumping – on the snow and off.)
Besides 14 medals in the X Games (!!) Shaun won GOLD in the 2006 Winter Olympics, and he's going for more this month in the 2010 Olympics. We got a chance to sit down with him for this interview. Not only is he an insanely good snowboarder . . . but he's an insanely cool guy.
Q: How did you first get into snowboarding?
Shaun: I started skiing at four. I was six when I started snowboarding, because my brother did it. Everything went fast from there. I basically got sponsored at seven years old, and I started competing and winning competitions.
[Ratha: Wow, I was still playing with my Barbies then.]
Shaun: When I was thirteen, I'd been winning the amateurs for five years straight. I was the overall champion every single time. I was becoming bored with the same old event, and I was winning events without learning any tricks, so I definitely thought it was time to move up. I went pro at thirteen and that's when things really started to kick in.
Q: Where do you get ideas for new moves?
Shaun: I think actually creating a brand new trick can come from anywhere. I've had a dream about skateboarding tricks and woke up the next day and rushed to the ramps and figured it out.
[Ratha: I had a friend in college who dreamed she was drinking Coke, and woke up and drank 2 cans of Coke in the middle of the night. Not the same though, huh?]
Q: Is there any particular trick that you dream of doing – that nobody's done?
Shaun: It's funny that you ask, because last season, one of my sponsors, Red Bull, basically helped build this massive half pipe out in the wilderness near Silverton, CO. We took the half pipe and halfway down, we would cut it off in an abrupt wall. And we added a foam pit so I could try these tricks that I'd been thinking of, and land in the foam, and not get injured. It's what guys on motorcycles do. So while I was out there I was able to invent about four new tricks, which was really cool.
Q: Are we going to see them at the Olympics?
Shaun: Yeah! I just did one in the qualifying events for the Olympics. It's a sensai double core 1080. Everybody's been calling it the double eagle though. It's an over rotation of what I'm trying to land at. So when you add it up – two 180s, 360, then you add another 180 on that so 540, then a 720, then a 900 all adds up to a 1080. So while doing this 1080, the cork is referring to spinning.
[Ratha: Like my head – which is also spinning!]
Shaun: We call it cork because you're not upside down, but you're just kind of sideways. Obviously at certain points you go upside down but it's referring to how you spin sideways. Then what happens is – I start out doing a backflip and then as I finish the backflip, I do probably 720 degrees of rotation and then I go into a front flip and add the rest of the rotation to add up to a 1080. So it's two flips in the air while spinning and rotating. You hold your board, you do the whole deal.
[Ratha: Wow. Not something you see every day.]
Q: Were you always a daredevil, even as a little kid?
Shaun: I was always doing wild stuff but I never considered it dangerous. Now that I look back I think, “Gosh, I can't believe I pulled that.” But when you're young everything seems so feasible and you bounce back quickly.
Q: Do you have any superstitions or rituals you do before you compete?
Shaun: Last time I did the Olympics, I started out the event and they ask you what song you want to hear before you drop in. I picked AC/DC's “Back in Black.” It's a rock and roll song and I won the event. So they were like, “Well what do you want to hear at the next event?” “Well, we might as well play the AC/DC song again.” And then they did and I won again, so it became, “Go ahead and play it again.” Why mess with what's working out?
Q: Can you explain what you think about when you're flying through the air?
Shaun: The way I describe it to people is when you've read a book, but you can't really recall what happened, or specific moments. It's kind of like that – being in sort of a “zone.” You get in this mesmerized state and you just kind of go. I'm usually thinking one wall ahead. So while I'm spinning and flipping doing my one trick, I'm thinking about the next wall.
Q: What else do you need besides talent need to become a successful snowboarder?
Shaun: I think no matter what it should take a certain level of love for the sport. You can't get too far, if your heart's not into it. The days that I just go out and have a good time is when I learn the most.
Q: Even when you compete you've got that smile on your face that makes everybody else smile.
Shaun: That's what's funny is that's the most dangerous game face. It's when I'm having fun! Because it means I'm relaxed and I'm confident and I'm comfortable with what I'm going to do.
Q: What is your training schedule?
Shaun: Basically all winter I snowboard, and in the summertime I compete professionally in skateboarding. I'm always competing in something. I always have new goals but I swear that that's been my success in the sport. I found the only reason why I still snowboard is because of skateboarding. It's been my escape from everything.
[Ratha: Bonus Trivia Tidbit: Shaun was mentored by Tony Hawk when he was nine years old. Not a bad beginning, huh?]
Shaun: So I found that right when I get tired of snowboarding, my skateboarding kicks in and then right when I get tired of skateboarding, my snowboarding kicks in. So it's been a nice cycle of staying fresh and excited about doing sports still.
So are you pumped for the Winter Olympics? After Shaun's interview, I'm more psyched to see the snowboarding events than ever! The Kids Press Corps has some more awesome Olympics coverage for all the winter sports. Kid reporter Daniel Wetter will be reporting from Vancouver as the Games continue, so check it out!
Drop a line in The Comments and let me know what you think!
— Ratha, Stacks Writer
Interview by Marie Morreale
Photo by Peter Dejong/AP Wide World