Moments In Time: Snowboarder Shaun White Talks About The Past, Present, Future, And Omega
The five-time Olympian and three-time gold medalist Shaun White shares three big moments in his professional career.
Shaun White is the most recognizable name in snowboarding. He holds world records for the most X Games gold medals and most Olympic gold medals by a snowboarder. So, when White announced that he was retiring from professional competition after the recent Beijing Games, it had a huge impact on the sport and its fans.
Why? Like Tony Hawk or Serena Williams, it’s hard to imagine a time when White wasn’t one of the most decorated athletes in their sport. Many of us are having a hard time remembering a world without White.
Watchonista had the chance to talk to White (via Zoom) about his most memorable moments in competition and his take on good timing (both in sports and watches).
When you look at the timeline, White’s personal story not only echoes the evolution of snowboarding but also helped shape that growth – from digging half pipes by hand in the early days of the sport to leading the way with sponsorships, like his partnership with Omega.
Most of the world became aware of snowboarding as a sport in a famous chase scene from the 1985 James Bond film A View to a Kill. The legendary American half-piper Shaun White was born one year later and started snowboarding at the age of six. He got his first sponsorship at seven.
Even though White had been participating in skateboarding and snowboarding competitions like the X Games (established in 1995), the sport came under a different kind of scrutiny when it made its debut at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
For the then 19-year-old White, one of the biggest turns in his career occurred after winning gold in the halfpipe at the 2006 Torino Olympics. “What shifted for me was that I was invited to be on all these talk shows, and I didn’t want to be the stereotypical snowboarder,” he remembered. “They would ask me if I would do a trick or hang from the rafters. I said, ‘I want to talk about the sport. I have a story to tell that speaks volumes.’ A lot of TV shows then said no.”
Typical of the types of questions he would receive, an interview clip on YouTube features a CNN reporter asking Team USA how they celebrated after the Torino Olympic Games. In it, she asks White what his beverage of choice was, and he responded, “Mountain Dew, baby.” It was considered funny at the time, but now, it seems weird that a reporter was trying to goad a 19-year-old (who was still too young to drink alcohol in the United States legally) into saying he’d been drinking underage.
“Things were different then,” White continued. “It was tough to navigate.” So White decided to focus his message on snowboarding being his craft and working hard at it.
However, as fraught and frustrating as navigating the international media was at such a young age, White credits the lessons he learned from being thrust into the spotlight for his longevity as a competitor.
“From 2006 to 2007, I got to become the face of snowboarding,” said White. “I learned to check in with myself. I was making sure that I was blending [the sport] with my personal life.”
This holistic approach, added White, extended to what he wore (and still wears) off the mountain. For example, regarding his partnership with Omega: “I was a fan of the brand before joining the team in Korea.” That’s not very surprising; after all, as Official Timekeeper of the Olympics, Omega is everywhere, from the starting gates to the timing clocks.
Continuing, White said, “I’m also always checking in with myself to see what makes sense.” That philosophy has resulted in long-term, authentic support from sponsors and partners like Omega. “And that trickles down into the tricks that I do,” added White. “I’m a visual person – I picture everything, down to the song I play when I drop into the pipe. I try to match my reality to it.”
Evolution of Time
The decision to retire from competitive snowboarding was White’s own. “Beijing was a final gratitude lap,” he said. “Most athletes don’t get to decide when to retire.”
White explains that being open to listening to others is key. And just as the sport evolved with new tricks, sleeker surfaces, and younger competitors, White learned to embrace and adapt to these changes. “With the physical thing, I tried to adjust my practice and how to train without hurting myself. Before Beijing, I was working through a knee injury and an ankle injury, so I tried to spread out and compartmentalize [my training].”
He also got good advice and guidance from his team, especially his coach and inspiration, Jarret John “JJ” Thomas. And even though he is now officially retired from competition, White told us that he intends to continue to listen to the advice of others as he plans the next phase of his life.
Despite his retirement, White is still very busy. Since returning from Beijing, he has been traveling the country, appearing on talk shows and doing interviews. During which, he is often seen wearing an Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean 600m Co-Axial Master Chronometer Chronograph 45.5mm in Sedna gold, a timepiece that is perfect for high-pressure and high-altitude moments. Not to mention it befits his status as a legend.
(Images OMEGA Watches, other sources mentioned)