Sean White has certainly come of age. His sporting and business success have now taken him from cult hero to mainstream sports star and global business brand. Snowboarding is where it all began for White, and his success in business hinges on his continued success and credibility on the slopes. But just how do you keep at the very top of your sport? Well, presumably having your own halfpipe helps…
You’ve built your own halfpipe for Red Bull Project X. How did that come about?
I had the idea to go out to Silverton and the guys from Red Bull were saying, ‘No, let’s go further’, saying that they wanted to build this private halfpipe. ‘You can work on something new, we can do some great filming,’ they said. ‘You can get a lot more done and you can do it in one place, in peace, over a set period of time. And you’ll get to hang out.’ That was pretty hard to resist.
So is it just about having the freedom to practice when you want?
Another big bonus is safety. Once when my friends and I were filming at Park City, word got out and people started to drift over. That’s cool, I don’t mind people watching, but it started to get a little dangerous because they’re jetting all over the place in this one controlled area.
My friend was dropping into the big quarterpipe and out of nowhere some kid just took over, cut my friend out and my friend goes flying out of it and broke his wrist. I had the same happen once while skateboarding: eight stitches because a kid shot his board out and exploded my ankle. It looked like a Kill Bill scene! It was ugly.
Another reason is that, well, if I’m going to try to do something amazing, I don’t want everyone to see it.
You also built a foam pit up there, which was a first. How hard was that to do?
It was scary at first, because you have no idea how to make it look and feel right, to be the right thing for a snowboard. I had to sit and talk with the pipe-cutters and tell them how I wanted it positioned and where would be best. And it worked out. Once that was all done we stretched a line across the foam that represented the lip of the halfpipe. With that I could know every time if I was in that ‘money’ zone.
Did you have a definite plan of what you intended to do with it?
There was an element of ‘What the hell do we do with it?’ but I had a wish list of the kind of tricks I wanted to do. And every single trick I set out to do, I can now do, which is awesome. Trial and error was really how we found out what was possible. You look at what other people have done and try to improve on that or add variations. Or you just wonder, what if? What if I just kept flipping? That was the luxury of the foam pit, because you would never try it otherwise, you would just beyond hurt yourself. The first tricks I attempted were just hideous.
Oh yeah, they were terrible. I had it in my mind that I would do a full flip and then rotate this way or that and then add something else and I was just completely wrong. It was just awful. So I had to completely redo all the rotations and figure out how they worked, the full trial and error process. But it was amazing to do it in that environment. Really, I took years and years of snowboarding practice and threw it into one day – that’s what the foam pit allowed me to do.
One of the criticisms that’s been levelled at you in the past has been that while you have perfected tricks, you haven’t really innovated. Do you feel you addressed that?
Definitely. I was very good at taking tricks and mastering them, putting my own stamp on them, sure, but they had been done. My talent, I guess, was being able to nail them, put them together in a run and land them all the time and not make mistakes. This is the first time I’ve taken the initiative to learn something totally new, I think. It feels great. Forever, I’ll be the first one to do these tricks. It’s cool, it’s definitely building on who I am within the sport.
Was it daunting taking those test tricks out of the foam pit and onto the pipe?
Oh yeah. I was terrified. It could have been all over. All it would have taken was for me to throw the trick and panic halfway through and I would have severely hurt myself. I know from past experience of learning tricks, you have to commit yourself totally or it will be bad.
How does it feel to land a trick and know you’re the first person to do it?
It feels great. It’s amazing. Actually I can’t describe how it felt the first time I landed a new trick. I was sitting there just shaking. I knew right then it was something special. But I really had to psych myself up to attempt it. I’d hold my breath and try it and now it’s something that just feels part of my run.
So is this kind of private training the way forward for you?
I don’t know. It’s difficult to explain but… it’s very hard to ride alone. The whole sport is built off the fact that you do this with your friends. You get energy from other people, I go bigger when there’s a crowd. It’s difficult to work alone. Just doesn’t feel good.