Even those alien to snowboarding will probably know the name of Shaun White, the ginger, mop-haired American ‘Dude’ , sweeping gold medal after gold medal with effortless tricks out of the halfpipes and high above the kickers.
Despite being born with a congenital heart defect and having to go through two open heart surgeries before reaching twelve months old, this didn’t hold him back from achieving great heights in the snowboarding world.
Whilst achieving great competitive and commercial success in the world of snowboarding, Shaun hasn’t won over everyone in the hardcore scene. Many believe he hasn’t stayed true to the origins and ethos of snowboarding, with every appearance, almost a celebrity circus.
It’s sometimes hard to imagine that Shaun White could simply head for the back country for some off piste riding with only a couple of mates and no product endorsement in sight.
Shaun’s career took off at the ripe age of 13, turning pro after taking his first major win at the Artic Challenge in 2001. Spectators were first amazed by his insane talent after taking on the ‘daddy’ of snowboarding, Terje Haakonsen, and coming out on top.
Those who witnessed the early competition between the two could hardly have imagined how their respective careers could have gone in two distinctly different ethical directions.
White took his first X Games medal at just 16, later taking gold in both the Slopestyle and Superpipe whilst also taking home the best athlete award in 2003. Since then Shaun has gone on to gain a medal in every X Game he participated in, taking the total up to 17 gold medals out of a whopping 28 in total.
Whilst some say Haakonsen epitomises the purity of the sport, White appears to embrace the commercialised opportunities presented by the popular media, who are eager to capitalise on the fast growing popularity of snowboarding.
During White’s early amateur years, the media were searching for an icon to fit this stereotypical image of a snowboarder. After being shunned by the ‘then’ top riders such as Terje Haakonsen and Travis Rice, the media then latched on to this young, slightly left field boy.
Looking back, it’s hard to say whether the media moulded Shaun’s image to match their stereotypical view of the sport, or if he himself moulded the sport to fit his image.
Love him or hate him, few can deny that his rockstar persona, coupled with his amazing talent, has raised the profile of snowboarding far beyond any other rider and his legacy can be measured by his popularity outside of the sport as much as his success within.