Exclusive | Interview: Shaun White Talks Oakley Week, Debacle In China
Last season, Shaun White decided to take some time off from snowboarding, focusing time and energy on several of his other talents and business ventures. While many wondered if it was the beginning of the end for White, the California native was doing big things off the snow.
While focusing much of his attention to his global event series Air + Style, the 29-year-old also bought an ownership stake in Mammoth Mountain early this year, the resort he enjoyed as a kid. White is now a rare breed, one that can shred his local slopes but also have say in planning its events.
The first major event of White’s tenure as a member of Mammoth Mountain ownership took place last weekend, as the two-time Olympic gold medalist and 13-time Winter X Games gold medalist hosted Oakley Week, a seven-day event celebrating snowboarding. The event featured a variety of giveaways, product demos and athlete signings, capped off with the Oakley Mini Pipe Challenge – hosted by White.
For White, the marriage of Mammoth Mountain and Oakley, one of his first sponsors, was a no-brainer and the event gave him a chance to further grow the sport – and have some fun after a successful, yet stressful, competition season. We recently got a chance to speak with White, as he prepared for Oakley Week, to get all the details and to find out exactly how crazy the last few months have been.
HOSTING OAKLEY WEEK
CraveOnline: Hi Shaun. How’s life back on the west coast treating you?
Shaun White: Oh my God, China is a nice place – but in doses [laughs].
Crave: Is it tough to get used to the time change and everything that comes with it?
White: Uh, I’m pretty good at it. I usually just take a day to figure it out. I usually kind of just stay up, knowing that I’m going to crash that night – yeah, I don’t know, I’ve kind of figured it out.
Crave: You’ve been doing it enough where you kind of get into some sort of rhythm, I’m sure.
White: Yeah, totally [laughs].
Crave: Well, let’s talk a little about Oakley Week. I’m going to start with your ownership stake in Mammoth Mountain – can you describe being part owner of a mountain you’ve shredded on for years and how important it is for you to kind of continue that for future generations?
White: Well, it’s amazing – I mean, this whole life circle. Grow up riding at the resort, I love everything they do and then to have an opportunity to be a part owner is amazing and to actually steer the future of what the resort will mean for the next generation, I mean, I don’t know, I think it’s such a cool opportunity. I guess it shows where I’m at in the sport, where I can actually influence change now, rather than just be another rider on the mountain – which is what I’ve always done and loved and enjoyed doing. But now I can actually step in and implement that change, so it’s a very exciting, as well as a humbling, position to be in. Yeah, and it’s so great that Oakley’s doing this whole event up there and their week – I mean, God, I’ve been with Oakley since I was, I don’t know, 11-years-old – maybe younger [laughs]. It’s definitely cool.
Crave: Before we get into Oakley, is it kind of weird, that perspective – as opposed to being the rider, now you’re kind of in control a little bit?
White: I’m both, which is bizarre. I’m still competing – I’m still doing my thing and then to be able to wear two different hats, it’s a cool experience rather than, I think, being a challenge – it’s definitely more fitting because I’m on both sides of the fence and I can kind of give the opinions from both angles.
Crave: You mentioned you’ve been sponsored with Oakley for a long time, so what’s it mean for you to join forces now with Mammoth Mountain to create this event?
White: It’s great – it’s just combining two of my favorite things [laughs], you know what I mean? It’s getting to work with Oakley and Mammoth and support Oakley as a mountain owner, as a resort owner, which is just always cool. It’s going to be fun, I mean, that’s the whole point, it’s like this Oakley thing, you know the Mini Pipe Challenge, it’s not this full-on event you’d think, it’s everybody having a good time and celebrating snowboarding, instead of like, ‘alright, who’s going to do the triple and who’s going to get the biggest air’, you know, it’s just going to be a fun event and exciting for not just only the locals but the people that are going to be joining us from the city and all that.
Crave: Now, you’re hosting that challenge, is it going to be kind of different for you to put on the show, rather than to be part of the show?
White: Well, that’s my whole thing with Air + Style, my event series, so that’s been like a passion of mine to actually sit and watch and enjoy the events. It’s so funny, I remember watching one of the first Air + Styles of mine on the tour and there was just this trip where I was like, ‘man, I’m a little nervous, because I’ve never actually watched before [laughs]’, because I’m always worried about my run and never thinking about other riders – I’m just worried about what I’m doing. And it’s such a cool, fun scenario to just hang out and be a part of it, rather than having to compete. I think a lot of people tend to like when I compete, but yeah, it’s cool, it’s fun – I enjoy it.
Crave: When you’re sitting there watching, does it make you kind of want to compete, or, like you said, is it really just nice to sit back and let them do it and just watch?
White: No, its fun – I’ve gotten used to it. Before, I would get super anxious. I was at the Summer Olympics in London and it was super uncomfortable. I felt like someone was going to throw me in the pool and be like, ‘compete for the gold!’ I really felt that way – I felt uneasy the whole time because it’s this Olympics kind of vibe and you’re so used to being in it in a certain way and then to be a spectator was super unsettling, like I thought someone was going to throw me a basketball and be like, ‘come on [laughs].’ It’ like…
Crave: How are your basketball skills?
White: Oh they’re terrible, it’s like the one sport where I just can’t – I got no hoops. But yeah, this is fun for me. I’m excited to just hang and be a part of it.
CANCELED COMPETITION IN CHINA
Crave: Who are you looking forward to watching – is there one rider? I mean, I know you compete with these guys all of the time and it’s kind of like a brotherhood, but it there anyone?
White: I’m looking forward to taking some fun laps with Seb (Toutant) and Sven (Thorgren). I saw those guys in China and they were like, ‘are you going to Mammoth’, and I was like, ‘well, yeah, I kind of own the mountain now [laughs].’ I’m excited to kind of just hanging with the guys, I mean, my season wrapped after the event in China, which was a complete bust. The TTR (Ticket to Ride) World Cup Challenge, or whatever it was, that got cancelled – what a nightmare. Did you hear about that?
Crave: No, I actually didn’t.
White: Everybody basically flew to China and they cancelled the competition, so we were all like, ‘welp, I guess we fly home.’ TTR took the most money they could get from whichever resort would pay the most and – I guess it was a resort out of China – basically they couldn’t hold the contest [laughs] because they didn’t have the machinery or the technology to like make a ‘pipe.
Crave: So, that’s pretty much it, you just show up and kind of go home?
White: I guess, for most riders they went home. I was asked to stay by the government to do at least a demo and I’ve got other business there with Air + Style, we’re going to be doing a slope and halfpipe event – or I think just a halfpipe event – in China next season, so there’s a lot of meetings and things I had planned already, so I stuck around for demonstrations. They basically staged a competition for the TV in China and they’re like, ‘well no, it’s Chinese people’, and I was like, ‘alright, this is weird but OK!’
Crave: When you’re over there, do you get much of a chance to kind of take in the culture and the sights? I mean, I know you’ve been there a number of times but on an occasion like that, do you get a chance to look around, or is it more work, work, work and then you head home?
White: It depends on the trip. On this particular trip, we did get time. Like, I went and saw – they have over 1,000 tigers at this like sanctuary in that resort area in the town of Harbin. So, we went down and like saw tigers, went shopping and they have all sorts of different types of food. They have this one, it’s like a hot pot. Basically, they bring out boiling water and you throw different things in and kind of scoop it out there and eat it – it’s pretty good. I’m not doing a good job describing it [laughs]. Actually, I’m doing a pretty good job describing it. It’s just literally a hot pot of water, you throw things in it and cook it up and then eat it. But yeah, we cruised around for a couple days, then went up to the resort and then to the session competition they held and then I came home. It usually depends on how long the trip is and what the deal is. Usually, I’ll ether come in a couple days early and check out the town or stay a little longer and have a day in the city.
CREATING THE ULTIMATE SNOWBOARDING EXPERIENCE
Crave: You’re fresh off your sixth Burton U.S. Open win. What is it about that event that seems to bring out the best of your halfpipe work – I mean, that Double McTwist 1260 was sick.
White: [Laughs] Thanks. Yeah, I don’t know. It was just sunny, warm weather, you know, the ‘pipe was in great condition – the snow pack there is just incredible – and the vibe was great. It’s all those things coming together – I mean, they had a huge turnout for the ‘pipe event, the music that was there was great, Big Grams played which was really cool. It’s a combination of Big Boi from Outkast and Phantogram, which is super cool. But that’s the whole deal, kind of like the Air + Style vibe – you go ride, you have a great time, there’s music, there’s fun things to do and it really kind of sets the mood when you have all these things, rather than here are two runs and that’s it.
Crave: That was kind of going to be my next question. How important is it to make an event out of [snowboarding], to make it more than just fans showing up, watching a few hours of competition and then heading home?
White: Oh, it’s huge. I mean, it’s the way the world is kind of changing right now. It’s just not enough to have an event – sometimes, you can do that and get away with it if it’s just diehard fans that are coming for that but anytime you add these other elements, I think it really brings a crowd, it brings the people. It’s the day and age when you’re getting so much information on your phone and you’re like, ‘oh, who else is going to be there, what else is happening?’ You want to know that you’re going to have a fulfilled weekend, or whatever. I think it’s really important. For Air + Style, we had record attendance over this last event in L.A. and we had over 40,000 people that would have never seen a snowboard contest before – or maybe half the crowd was there for the comp and half the crowd was there for the music but either way, this entire crowd saw the music and they saw the sport, you know. It just gets more eyeballs that you traditionally wouldn’t get, which is very important.
Crave: As the star athlete of these events, when you find out who else is going to be there, as far as entertainment and stuff, do you get stoked?
White: Oh yeah, it’s awesome. Anytime you can go like do your job and have something to do after is always super fun. I mean, it’s like, ‘aw man, I have a meeting today but it’s in this part of town, so I’m excited because I get to go to this restaurant’, or ‘aw, I know my friend I haven’t seen in a while lives in this part of town.’ It’s that same vibe of ‘I get to see this event and I get to see one of my favorite bands play.’ Or, ‘I get to be a part of something else that’s going on that I normally would never cross paths with’, you know, someone of…
Crave: It’s all about the little things in life.
White: Oh yeah, man. It’s definitely like kind of how things are going, especially for me. I love to play music, so whenever you involve those things I get really stoked on a personal level.
Crave: Going back to your recent success, have these last few wins helped you prove that you haven’t lost your skills and that you’re still at the top of your game?
White: Not to me, maybe to the public’s point of view, I guess. You know what I mean? I never really felt any different from the years before, I mean, I took last season off and I don’t think people knew that. I came to X Games just in support that they were airing Air + Style videos online and then on TV, so I wasn’t planning on competing that season and then I was only posting photos of me playing music on Instagram [laughs], so people were like, ‘is he done?’ For me, no, I mean I felt the same and this has always been my plan but maybe for the public eye, yeah, but there’s a lot of changes I’ve made in my life in general. I didn’t really see the significance at the Open until after – I did one of the biggest Big Airs at the Open and, at this point in my career, it’s pretty exciting that I’m riding better than ever, so yeah, there’s a bunch of fun things coming down the pipeline for me. But I never really thought of it that way until afterwards, it’s like I haven’t lost my skills, I guess.