If any man were worthy of a little arrogance and attitude, it would surely be three-time Olympic Gold Medalist and snowboarding great Shaun White. But the attitude never arrives when White catches up with MH in Sydney’s snow-training facility, Off-Piste. In fact, White is the perfect gentleman, arriving without an entourage and taking the time and patience to personally greet everyone in the chalet.
White is in Australia to promote Air + Style, the adventure sport and music festival he owns, which will hit Sydney in August. The festival will bring a 135m high snow jump to the middle of our largest city, hosting 60 of the world’s top snow-sport athletes in a one-of-a-kind competition.
However, despite the impending winter festival, our conversation with White is dominated by talk of a skating comeback, and in particular his plans for a potential shot at summer Olympic gold at Tokyo 2020 (skateboarding will make it’s debut, along with surfing, at the next Games).
Given his phenomenal success as an unrivalled snowboarding great, it’s easy to forget that White’s career started in the skate parks of San Diego under the mentorship of Tony Hawk, and White’s eyes light up when talking about his plans to take on the Summer Olympics.
“You’d have to drag me to the mountain right now,” White says with a refreshing honesty that underpins our whole interview. “To get back on the snow… doesn’t seem that appealing to me, and skating seems SO appealing.”
It makes sense for White to take a shot at gold in 2 years time, given his current fitness levels that buoyed his record breaking performance in Pyeongchang earlier this year. At 31, he’s in the best shape of his life, and his greatest challenge now is maintaining a healthy mindset and finding motivation to compete, something he finds in skating. And White is already in full-blown skate mode, even inviting us to hit the bowl with him following the interview.
“I really feel that I would have retired or quit snowboarding years ago if it wasn’t for skateboarding,” said White while reflecting on his endless options. “What better than a 2 year window to go skate.”
While it would seem ludicrous for most to turn their back on their main sport, White is spoilt for choice. Although he’s outperforming all others on the slopes, he is a veteran in the sport, and the next Winter Olympics are a long 4 years away in Beijing. The prospect of a 2-year training window is therefore extremely appealing when compared to another 4.
“The training has changed because I actually do it now,” laughs White when I ask him how he’s preparing for Tokyo, and the differences in preparing for a Summer Games. “I claimed that I hit the gym when I was younger because it sounded like what I should say.”
Tim Hartwig, Shaun’s trainer agrees. He says that White is “by far the best athlete I’ve ever worked with. He’s naturally gifted, and it wasn’t until he started aging that he realised he needed to step it up. Not many athletes realise that.”
Some sceptics might wonder why it took White so long. “People would ask me, ‘You’re really going to the Olympics again?’ I’m like, ‘Dude, I feel better than I ever have’.”
Clearly a man with no intention of slowing down, the boarder/skater/festival-owner is also eyeing up a career in music. Following a headlining stint in band Bad Things, White is keen to give solo-life a crack, and is “done with the band thing”. While the specifics aren’t hashed out just yet, White is clearly eyeing off the next 2 years of skate training to explore some passion projects.
White is unapologetic about his skill, success and dedication, and it’s clear that no matter what the next few years hold, he’s going to use his passions as key motivators.
“Your heart’s gotta be in it, and you can’t fake that.”