When you snowboard for a living, how do you relax? If you’re Shaun White you chill out to some classic rock.
How come you’re so into music?
I guess it comes from my dad, who’s a true music lover. Whenever he came home from work, we could hear him approaching just by the boom of his car’s sound system. Sometimes we’d find him passed out on the driver’s seat, because he can’t leave the car until a great song is finished. Sometimes the next one would be even better, so he’d stay in the car and fall asleep in the parking lot.
You play guitar. Have you ever jammed with professional musicians?
I was supposed to play at a concert at The Roxy in L.A., but I didn’t feel I was ready (laughs). But I played onstage at Sundance in Utah with a bunch of musicians from Camp Freddy (a Hollywood supergroup formed around Dave Navarro, featuring members of Velvet Revolver, The Cult and Jane's Addiction and named after a character in The Italian Job).
Does it work the other way? Have you ever snowboarded with a pop star?
I did some snowboarding with Seal. He came along as a friend of a friend.
Was he any good?
He’s actually really good, yeah! He’s also a cool person.
If you were going to play guitar to the national anthem, which would you choose?
Funny you should ask because two days before I won my medal, I went to the center of the Olympic Village with my amp and guitar and played the anthem for real, like Jimi Hendrix. So, at the ceremony I was just remembering my Les Paul.
How many guitars do you own?
I’ve got two more Les Pauls, a Classic and a Supreme. My very first guitar was a Fender Stratocaster which I still own and a Randy Rhoads from Jackson. And I use Marshall amps; I’ve got a couple of Fenders but I like the Marshalls better.
How do you like the White Stripes?
They are one of my favorite bands. I just like how talented Jack White is, the way he sings and plays. I also like the fact that it’s just drums and a guitar producing that big sound in order to fill the space. They’re amazing – just to deliver one album after another and each is just as good and different as the one before.
Have you seen the music documentary It Might Get Loud, in which he appears alongside Jimmy Page and The Edge?
No, I was planning on checking it out. I saw a preview for it on the plane. How is it?
Brilliant. In the beginning of the film Jack builds an electric guitar all by himself, using a plank of wood, some cords and ...
... a bottle, I know that scene. Great! I wonder how many people are out there right now trying to build their own electric guitar at home (laughs). I’ve only seen films on certain groups. There’s this two-disc-documentary on The Who, which was really entertaining. I didn’t know that Pete Townshend wrote and recorded all of the songs on his own and just used the band to perform them. So, in a way he was The Who, you know what I mean?
How about The Rolling Stones?
I love The Stones. They’re awesome. I don’t like the stuff they do now, though. It’s a bit like that with older bands: I like to remember them as they used to be. When Led Zeppelin reunited in 2007, I had a chance to see them in London, but I ended up not going. I guess I didn’t want to wreck the dream. If they’d messed up a guitar solo or something, it would have broken my heart.
What makes you realize that you’re slowly getting older yourself?
I gotta shave more often.
You have been to Japan about 30 times. What was the story behind Red Bull Big in Japan on Hokkaido?
It was a way for me to do what I do and have fun as well. It was just a bunch of friends on the road and off the contests, riding powder full on in backcountry Japan. We thought it would be interesting for people because normally they only see me in a halfpipe.
Terje Håkonsen also loves riding in Japan. How important are Terje’s achievements for you?
He was an inspiration since I was young – I always thought he was the greatest guy. He was the one who took our sport, like Tony Hawk did with skateboarding, shook it around and changed it forever. He is just such a mystic character, you never knew what he was up to until he came up with something nobody had ever seen.
Have you ever had the chance to meet Craig Kelly?
When I was a kid I went riding at the Craig Kelly Camp in Canada. He was an amazing guy but I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with him. I think most of what rubbed off of him was probably just inspiration. He loved what he did and never stopped doing it; he was always out riding. He made me realize that I could make a living out of snowboarding.
You probably meet a lot of people who are starstruck in your presence. Who would have a similar effect on you?
Probably Jimmy Page. I saw Robert Plant once at a party, and I was making my way over to him to say “Hi”, but I met about four people along the way and by the time I got to where I had spotted him, he was gone... It made the rest of my night just horrible, I had been sooooo close!
We hope you get another chance to meet him.
Oh yeah, hopefully (smiles). He’s gonna read this and he’s gonna know I wanna hang.