Shaun White On Lamborghinis, Skating Naked, and His New Rock 'n Roll Life
For roughly 12 years (yep, you’re old), Shaun White has stood atop the podium, shredding snow and vert ramps alike. Every year the fearless and unmistakable (remember the hair?) White seemed to put more and more space between himself and the ramps. With 23 X-Games medals and a pair of Olympic golds to his name, White, 28, has taken on a new challenge: music. Swapping his Burton for a Gibson, the SoCal native has ditched the pipe and hit the stage with his band, Bad Things, which toured with Jared Leto’s “30 Seconds to Mars” this summer and played the festival crowd at Lollapalooza in Chicago.
While balancing touring, his athletic career—no word yet on future half-pipe endeavors—and designing the new 1960s rock 'n roll-inspired Oakley Enduro, the most decorated snowboarder the planet’s ever known took a few moments last week to chat with Supercompressor about guitars, hucking his s*** in the nude, global warming, and shoving as much Stride gum in his mouth as possible.
How do you compare headlining Lollapalooza and the Olympics?
There’s fewer bugs at the Olympics. I remember being in the crowd the year before, watching the closing act of Lolla’ and thinking, ‘Wow that’s gotta be so amazing up there to be onstage with the lights’. And then fast-forward when I’m standing up there, and all I can think about is, ‘God, that guy must have had so many bugs in his face’, because all the bugs come out for the lights on stage. It was very funny to have this magical moment ruined by mosquitoes flying in my mouth.
But it was insane to be out on stage in front of that many people and feel them cheering...That was such a huge once-in-a-lifetime when we heard: "Hey you’re at Lolla, one of the major acts just dropped out, do you want their time slot?” We took it and actually played a great show. Kind of like every musician’s wet dream to walk off the stage and hear they’re cheering for one more song.
What is your guitar of choice?
A Les Paul Studio. It’s a great guitar; it’s kind of my travel guitar, the one I take on the road. I know it really well ‘cause I play it all the time, but I recently upgraded to a Les Paul Custom 69. I hit this point where I stopped buying instruments because it’s not going to make me a better musician to own all these guitars. And I didn’t want to be the guy who owned a ton of instruments and can barely play, so I keep it pretty limited to the one or two Les Pauls.
What’s the craziest trick you’ve ever landed...naked?
Oh, man. I did a backside air on a vert ramp naked at Tony Hawk’s warehouse while no one was there ‘cause I thought it’d be funny to send him the photo. And it was—it’s like, beyond terrifying. I’m a confident skateboarder on the vert, and it just adds this level of danger [laughs] and scarring. I don’t even mess with the cold, because you’re asking for it, but I did the skate ramp. I think asking anyone to step a backside air on a vert is pretty intimidating. I didn’t dare go for the kick-flip.
It's every musician’s wet dream to walk off the stage and they’re cheering for one more song.
At [events], the title's on the line with your reputation. I guess doing tricks naked on the vert is more like—well, it’s your man parts! A whole different level of fragile that you’re dealing with.
What’s the gnarliest thing you’ve done outside of board sports?
Playing music has been one of the most intimidating things. I mean, to put yourself out there in such a space that is so picked apart by critics and people who don’t want to see people doing different things, anyway. It’s like you see someone doing something for so many years, and you’re almost upset to see them doing something different. And so for me, this whole first album was to try get people to understand and get used to seeing me in that light and get to know my band and realize it is a real band. It’s a project far beyond just me.
I mean, [our] lead singer has tattoos on his eyelids; he’s not going to get a job at the bank afterward. Having the support from those guys, and actually stepping out on stage has been probably the most intimidating thing I’ve done in quite some time.
When was the last time you skied?
It’s been a little while, but usually I’d go to Snow Summit outside of Los Angeles, which would have some night riding things. I’d go up occasionally and mess around on skis with my friends. But I started on skis in the beginning when I was three or four years old. But I’m hoping to [combine it all] with a new event I’m doing—Air and Style. It [used to only be a] snowboarding event but now we’re going to add skiing to bridge the gap that still slightly exists. It’s more of like a sports and music festival. We’ll have a giant big air jump with skiing and snowboarding finals. We’ll have a whole roster of bands playing and different things going on, so it should be pretty cool.
Okay, this one’s for the east coast skiers/boarders. Okemo, Stratton, and Killington: F***, marry, kill.
[Laughs] Man, I don’t know! I’d probably f*** ‘em all? To be honest I’m so married to the mountains here on the west coast, I couldn’t really tell you. I remember having good powder at Stowe, so I’d probably marry Stowe, was that on the list? They’re all pretty icy to me. I’d probably murder Lake Placid, though. That was brutal. Kill that one for sure.
What’s the most outlandish non-real estate purchase you’ve ever made?
I bought some fancy cars. I guess that would be the most notable one. I bought a Lamborghini when I was like 20, and I totaled it, which was gnarly. That would probably be the most outlandish thing.
I’m pretty happy with the things I have. Maybe a new home by the beach? A dream home where you can surf? Oh, I bought some gold once, that was funny. I watched a Trinidad James video and I was like, “I should go buy some gold right now.” Gold was quite expensive at the time. I didn’t know I wasn’t buying it at the lowest point in the market. But I guess I can put it in an envelope and send it out for some cash later. There’s always that backup.
I’d probably murder Lake Placid.
Back to that Lamborghini. What are you driving now? What will you be driving in five years?
I still have that Lamborghini. There was this new Ferrari and I thought, I should go for that thing. I remember trying to see how much my car was worth, and it’s not even worth nearly half of what I paid for it, so I was like, I’m not going to do that again and buy something off the lot. My car of choice right now is a ‘66 Mustang. It’s not the fastback. It’s more relaxed-looking; it’s a gunmetal silver with a vinyl racktop. It’s not a convertible, just a hardtop. It’s so awesome. It’s like your dad’s car, it smells of gasoline and you can burn out like a motherf*****. But it’s a classic. You can’t really knock it and replace it. They’re not making any more, so it’s pretty killer.
We hear you turn down numerous movie scripts that have lines like “Sup brahhhh!!??” How much do you actually say that stuff in real life?
To Hollywood, I would appear very, “Hey, bro, let’s go smoke a doob.” It’s like, “Oh, we’ll have Shaun White show up and he’ll be at X-Games and he’ll air over us and the crowd.” They’ll have this script where I’m doing the typical thing you’d think I’d be doing in a movie. I really stay away from that stuff. I said yes to that Friends With Benefits movie—I got to play a character of myself. I feel like a pretty nice guy in general but they had me be a complete a**hole in the film. To everyone I was a nice guy, but to Justin Timberlake I was an a**hole ‘cause he was taking the girl I was interested in.
I guess I can only learn from the people around me. It was J.J. Thomas, Danny Kass, and Ross Powers after the [‘02] Salt Lake Olympics and the first thing that they did was sign a deal for Lipton Ice Tea. The commercial was like, “Hey bro, how’s that tasty tea you got?” Then Danny would ride up and it’d be like, “Hey dude, so good!” Then J.J. would show up and be like, “Nah, dude, that’s my iced tea.” It was that brutal. And I remember thinking, “Oh my God.”
I bought a Lamborghini when I was like 20. I totaled it.
There are plenty of talk shows I said no to because they wanted me to do some sort of stunt. It’s like, “Regis and Kelly wants you to come out and do a backflip right before you come on the stage in your full snow gear.” Ehh, no...I had to pass on a lot of it because they wanted me to do that. And I was like “Look, I’ll wear a suit, look nice, come out, and say some funny things just like every other guest.” Respect what I do. I love Tony Hawk, but I don’t know when you’ve seen him on TV without his skateboard in his hand. And that’s something I strive to do. You can recognize me now on the street without my gear because I made a stance from the beginning that I wouldn’t do those things.
If you had to drink one adult beverage for the rest of your life, what would that be?
I just quit drinking! Yeah, I’d say nothing. Some friends on the tour were doing a sober tour so we quit drinking. I just figured I’m kind of done. That’s where I’m at—that’s what I’m telling myself [laughs], otherwise that would have been a really hard question.
How many Olympic Villages have you had sex in, and if so, which was the best?
Oof. I actually never stayed in any Olympic Village. [The thing with] snowboarding now is that [they’ll] put you up in the mountains, so the first one we were up in Bardonecchia [Turin, ‘06] and I stayed with some friends and family. And in Vancouver [‘10] we had our own house, and Sochi [‘14] we had a house with the whole family. I heard about people having “the sex,” but I wasn’t partaking as much, I guess.
I watched a Trinidad James video and I was like, “I should go buy some gold right now.”
When global warming melts every last drop of snow, will skateboarding have a renaissance?
I remember global warming being very apparent when the seasons started changing and there was like this serious drought [where there should be snow]. But then it’d be dumping someplace you’d never expect; those were the moments I was thankful I was a professional skateboarder…But I think people still listen to music either way, so that’s nice that I can do that. But yeah, I just haven’t been riding lately cause there’s no snow in the United States.
And finally: how many pieces of Stride gum can you put in your mouth?
At least two packs. But I can only do it when I stare into my photo on the package. It’s an intimidation thing. Scare play!