Shaun White goes big. Olympic champion big. Oprah big. No snowboarder is as decorated. No redhead is as nimble.
He’s been a sponsored rider since he was 7 and turned pro at 13. At 23 he’s already won two Olympic gold medals, plus a ton of X-Games hardware, and he is the undisputed ambassador for his sport. He carries so much clout that Red Bull built a private half-pipe into the side of a mountain — complete with a practice foam pit — that was only accessible by helicopter just because he asked for it.
As if that weren’t enough, Shaun White is also a top-shelf professional skateboarder.
AskMen.com had a chance to catch up with the golden boy, just days after his big Olympic half-pipe victory in Vancouver.
Shaun White on Post-Podium Partying
You must be doing nonstop press right now. Have you been able to squeeze in any partying since you won your latest gold medal?
Doing the press stuff has been a real gauntlet, an NBC madhouse. I didn’t sleep for a day or two after winning the medal, so the celebrating is more like having dinner with friends and family. The real party stuff comes after I get through all of this. Red Bull threw me a little celebration party in Vancouver before I flew to Chicago to meet Oprah though.You clearly know your way around a half pipe, but how good are you at handling your liquor? I’m not a big drinker. I have a couple drinks and I’m pretty much good to go. An average college kid could probably drink me under the table pretty quickly. I’m pretty sure that the average college kid probably hits it a lot harder than we do. We just get to do it in really cool places, like going out in Japan or Vancouver.
Shaun White on Food
That’s a pretty good segue into talking about what you put into your body. Are you careful with what you eat? Are there foods that you can’t resist?
I can’t stay away from Chinese food. I really love that stuff. Not even the really nice places though. Like the sketchy "Wok Garden" or the random ones in the airport. I love ‘em! So I go to town on that as my guilty pleasure, but I’m pretty good when I eat normally.
I also love going to steakhouses. That’s my thing. I usually eat a pretty big steak the night before I compete. Other than that, I just pick up little things from friends here and there. I’m pretty good with what I eat now because I’ve been traveling around since I was 11 or 12, and it was one of those things that if you don’t open your mind and start eating everything, you’re going to be in trouble. Traveling all over in a place like Japan, you can’t always find your average cheeseburger or whatever.
Are you a big gym guy?
The stuff that I do when I get to go to the gym is more like a maintenance thing. I’m not trying to build up muscle or bulk, or anything like that. In a lot of traditional sports you need to be big — you need to knock over someone who’s bigger than you. But it’s a different strength you’re looking for in snowboarding. It’s more like tennis. You gotta be quick and you’ve gotta be really mentally prepared. You gotta predict where you’re gonna go, where you’re going to land, what you’re going to see.
When I do go to the gym, everything’s combined with balance. I’ll do a lot with those big, weighted medicine balls and those half moons. I’ll balance with one leg or squat on a half moon while getting the medicine ball thrown at me.
How does this improve your riding?
When you’re losing balance on your snowboard — doing that arm waving thin —, what you’re doing is straining yourself, and your body is grabbing every single muscle around it in order to bring you back into balance. So, that’s what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to strengthen all those little muscles that help the big muscles, and build overall strength — not size.
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You’re also a pretty accomplished skateboarder. How does skateboarding help your snowboarding?
Skateboarding helps a ton with balance, precision, with air awareness... it gets your senses to be spot-on and it’s also a great way to take my mind off things. If you eat the same cereal every day it’s gonna get old. And if I had thought about snowboarding every day, I would have quit a long time ago.
So it keeps it fresh for me. If I skateboard all summer, I can’t wait to get back on a snowboard. And after the winter, all I want to do is get out of my snow gear, throw on a T-shirt and go skating.
Shaun White on Injury Prevention
We don’t see you bail often, but you did manage to smack your head pretty nicely at the X-Games this year. How do you keep yourself out of the hospital?
Ha! I could have been a boxer, huh? I can take a hit! Wearing a helmet is always nice. It flew off that time, but it did its job.A lot of it is just riding within your own limits. You try to push yourself, but if you step to something you’re not ready for... Something I learned when I was really young was to fully commit. When I was 8 or 9, I’d see so many kids who’d want to learn a backflip at the Mt. Hood Summer Camp in Oregon. And every single one would panic as soon as they got up in the air, stop rotating and land on their heads.And that motivated you to smack your head too?I just realized at that point that if they’d fully committed, they would have been way better off landing on their butts or their backs than upside down. Ever since then, I’ve never gone into a trick without fully committing to it.
Shaun White on Killing It at the Olympics
Tell us about that Double McTwist 1260 that you threw in Vancouver.
A lot of people have asked me about that last trick because I didn’t have enough speed going into it. I landed really low on my hit before it and I lost a ton of speed and momentum, but I threw the trick anyway. And as I came around, I basically willed it to land. You can see this little jerky motion at the end where I twist my board and force it to land, because that was my only option.