We Sat Down With the Legend to See How He is Adjusting to Life After Another Triumphant Win in 2018
Written By: Charlotte Farrell
Photographed By: Nick Isabella
Styled By: Sara Borgese
Grooming By: Natalie Bohlin Shaun White
The drive from Orange County to San Diego wasn’t the best. I crept along, weaving my way through rubberneckers as they gawked at accident after accident. When I arrived on set, the first topic of my conversation with Shaun White was about none other than the traffic. He drove down from LA, which adds on an extra 35-45 miles to the trek. We agreed the time spent on the road to and from “America’s Finest City” has gotten worse—I guess the rest of the world has caught on to how fine it truly is. Here’s the thing: that traffic can’t take away from the gorgeous route along the sea, so rather than letting the drive drag him down, Shaun maintained a sort of unpretentious, unbothered confidence considering all the fuss. We saw a grown-up version of the formerly long-haired skater/snowboarder that day.
Our interview began with the 2018 Olympics. America was, and still is, in a confused, turbulent place. With everything that’s going on politically, socially and so on, both then and now, the sense of patriotism isn’t at its strongest. But come time for the Olympics, our red, white and blue hearts burst with pride once we hear that national anthem and see our flag fly when one of our own wins big. That rang true for me and my family when we watched Shaun complete the most epic, spine-tingling, goosebump-inducing run, earning him an uncontested gold once more.
Looking back, it all boiled down to a bit of luck and a whole lot of hoping for the best. “I had never done that run before. I had basically taken this big crash training in New Zealand, and it put this huge mental block, you know, doing that trick again in training…I just couldn’t get around it,” he recalled. “And I made a promise to myself after the crash that I wouldn’t do that trick again unless the conditions were absolutely perfect. And so, throughout the season, all these things…kept me from doing this trick.” But when the time came, the fear disappeared, and he went for it.
“I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna make it,” he told himself as he sped down the halfpipe, hurling his body high up into the atmosphere and flipping and twisting like nothing the world had ever seen. Shaun compared it to a fear we can all relate with: “Think about making a speech in front of the world, and you haven’t read your lines yet…you gotta wing it. You’ve gotta own it.” When the time came, the pressure faded and his skills and training took the wheel. “Right when I landed I was just so happy…but then there’s still the judges,” he said in all seriousness.
He held back celebrating too much at first, the anticipation building as he awaited the results. We all felt it at home, damning the networks for holding back for dramatic effect. ”That was an eternity. That wait was awful,” he rolled his eyes. “But then that score came through, and it was just unreal. Once I won, it all just came pouring out.”
The hunt for this medal started right after his loss in Sochi in 2014. “The whole journey wasn’t really a physical one. It was mental. I had the tricks to win in Sochi, I just mentally wasn’t there,” he explained. It became a “come to terms” moment for Shaun. He dug deep into the relationships in his life, be it with family or the friends he had lost touch with along the way, regaining focus on the people that stuck by his side through it all.
As the momentum was building for Pyeongchang 2018, Shaun felt ready. But fate tested him again with a devastating crash only a few months before the games. “I remember when I immediately hit my face…and boom…[it] was split open and I had pulmonary lung contusions and my lungs were full of blood. I couldn’t fly home because [the blood] was filling the lung space…that was a long recovery and frustrating thing and that really kind of made me question everything,” he said.
It’s on par with the course to get an injury here and there as a pro athlete, but this was beyond what he had ever fathomed. His family assured him that if he needed to call it a day, there would be no judgment or loss of street cred. “You’ve got medals, you’ve got awards,” they would tell him while he healed. But Shaun wasn’t finished: “I had come so far, and that was the real challenging point of the season. I can take upsets and losses to rebound, but getting hurt is just such a bummer.”
The scars are now battle wounds, remnants of a challenging moment that solidified how truly emotional and triumphant that win in 2018 was to Shaun. “I’m not glad that it happened, but in ways I’m just like, I respect that it happened. It put me in a position of ‘how badly do you really want this?’” he asked. “The one thing that kept me going was the fact that I just felt it. I knew I could do it. I knew when push came to shove I would step up to the occasion.”
The return of the king in January of 2018 was a sigh of relief for Shaun but a moment that gained him, yet again, legend status. Another medal and another triumph after a long, bumpy and painful road. The entire process from Sochi to this point proved he had found the physical and mental balance just in time. “That’s why, at the finish line…it was such an emotional release,” he added.
Now, what does the Shaun White do after such a massive victory? Fans might think he retreats to some glamourous den in the mountains to spend his days snowboarding just for fun while he sips on hot cocoa. Wrong. Shaun has plenty of side hustles that keep him busy when he isn’t on the slopes.
Between his philanthropy work with the Boys & Girls Club, taking ownership of the music and sports festival Air and Style, co-authoring his soon-to-be-released memoir with Neil Strauss and more, he is constantly on the move. But he always makes time to revisit his roots.
Shaun is a San Diego native through and through. Growing up in the city meant sunny days filled with surfing on pristine beaches, skateboarding in parks with pros like Tony Hawk, hanging with pals and, of course, ample trips to the nearby mountains for some snowboarding. SD is a kid’s dream come true.
“I remember being able to walk to school every day because it was such beautiful weather and I felt safe. I felt loved…I felt like I could do anything. Especially now that I’m older…you realize the things you take for granted,” he shrugged, but reminisced that “it was kind of like the perfect place to grow up.”
His mom still lives in SD, and he regrets selling the home he had right on the beach. It was just too big and lonely for someone so young, considering all of his friends held 9-5 jobs like accountants, engineers, etc. But San Diego beckons for him to return often, and he doesn’t resist. “LA’s great, but there’s nothing like coming this far down. If this scenario was up in LA, I would have never left.”
In moving to LA, Shaun’s discovered a few other passions within his creative wheelhouse that might surprise you. In all senses of the word, Shaun loves design, be it interiors or fashion. The interest developed as a result of his collabs over the years. Think Shaun White snowboards, Shaun White board boots, Shaun White hoodies and more. That translated into his WHT SPACE clothing line and now he has a bug for home renovation and interiors. He gets inspiration from everywhere and everyone, like contemporary designers and hotels he has appreciated in the past.
At the cover shoot, he donned elevated looks that reflected his updated attitude. His fashion sense has evolved. It’s as though he belonged in Gucci’s new ad campaign alongside Harry Styles. “I try,” he shyly smiled when I called him a fashionista. It all stems from his signature red, flowing hair. Shaun’s desire to stand out amongst the crowd started when his schoolmates were bleaching and spiking their short locks. He grew his mane long and luscious, and the rest is history.
Our time drew to a close, but not before I could bring up skateboarding and it’s introduction to the Olympics in Japan in 2020. I asked if he would compete, knowing that skateboarding is just as much a part of Shaun’s DNA as its snowier counterpart. “I am [thinking about it], and I’m taking it at a slow pace. Normally I just dive in,” he said with a furrow of his brow. “But to be kind to myself I was like, ‘look, you just finished this marathon that is the last Olympics.’” For now, we’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, he’s enjoying life outside of training, like going to Cabo to join in on a buddy’s bachelor party.
If we do ever meet again and he does decide to try for another gold medal, I would tell Shaun to go big or go home, but then again, he always does.
Mountain Man: Shaun’s favorite mountain is Mammoth. In fact, at one point, he was part owner. “It’s so close, and it’s like going home,” he said.
Ready to Roll: When he needs some music to pump him up before a run, Shaun is all about high energy and rock ‘n roll.
Idol Beings: The other athletes that inspire Shaun the most are Andre Agassi and Muhammed Ali. In fact, Ali’s book was one of the first he read as a young adult.
Native Knowledge: When in San Diego, Shaun explained, the “first thing I do when I get home is go to Juanitas on the 101…it’s been there for ages.” He’s also a big fan of Fish 101 and Coffee Coffee. “Anything I can skate to or ride my bike to,” he joked.
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