Snowboarding superstar Shaun White is easily the most recognisable name in Snowboarding. Not only has he won more gold medals in Olympics and X Winter Games than any other boarder, but he’s also the first person to ever win gold medals in both the X Games and X Winter Games for different sports (Snowboarding Superpipe and Skateboarding Vert). Did we mention he has a band? His band Bad Things, are signed to Warner, played Lollapalooza 2013, Firefly 2014 and released an album this year. That’s not even why he’s visiting our shores though: having turned his attention to sunglass design, he’s just released a new pair, the Enduro, though Oakley.
Is it the first time you’ve been here?
No I’ve been here a couple of times now and I love it. It’s so funny because it’s such a home away from home in so many ways. It’s so relaxed. I’ve only really spent lots of time in Sydney, but hanging around in Manly or Bondi beach, skating the bowl… it’s a very relaxed beached community and it’s like where I’m from. So I feel like, if there was anywhere in the world that I could actually live, it’d be Australia.
Sure but have you seen our snow?
Yeah, I actually trained for the last Olympics up in Jindabyne…
Well I suppose snow quality doesn’t matter too much right? I guess if we can make a good pipe, you’re happy?
Yeah I’m not Travis Rice. I’m not trying to like… first descent Jindabyne. It’s more like, if you’ve got a great jump or great weather. I grew up in Southern California and it’s not really known for great snow… We’ll you’ve got Mammoth and Tahoe, but it’s not really known for that.
How did Bad Things come about?
It’s funny how linked the worlds of Snowboarding or action sports are to music. I won my first guitar at X Games and that’s how I learnt to play… on this trophy I got – this x-games branded guitar. It was hideous too! It was bright yellow and I’d hide in my room to play it for fear that someone would see me with that thing. But I l fell in love with playing and I made friends in the neighbourhood that also played. I have these giant board bags and I’d put the guitar and a little amp and some loop pedals in it, and take them with me so I’d have something to do on the mountains. Often you can only ride for like two-three or maybe four hours a day, so what else can you do with your time?
You need a book, you need movies… a guitar became my thing to do. My friends quickly turned into great musicians and I moved to Los Angeles and met some more great musicians and we put the band together. Someone from Warner Brothers actually came to my garage to hear the band play – that was like three years before the album came out – and so we signed a deal and recorded the album. We’ve been touring this summer and that’s been just incredible. To step out on stage in front of people and to be performing and touring with your crew is just such a departure from sports.
How’s it different?
I remember before the first show, I was like: Okay I gotta do this! You know like game face, what I’d do in the sport world. And they looked at me and laughed. They were like: no WE gotta do this. And it’s definitely true – the group has to have a great show together in order to have a quality performance and I love it. It’s something that I want to keep doing.
It must be a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you’ll get heaps of exposure because your “Shaun White’s band”, but on the other hand you don’t want to be known as just “Shaun White’s band”, you want to be Bad Things…
Yeah that was the whole deal. We’d show up and people would think that. But I think everybody left our shows thinking: “Oh wow this isn’t the Shaun White band, or show.” It’s a group; a collective of artists and musicians doing something. There were no spotlight solos and fog at my ankles. It was definitely about the band and I think that’s what shine’s through when you see the performances. But we are going into a bit of a writing phase. We spent summer touring, we drove a van around the US and doing some dive bars, playing all sorts of venues… but we also lucked out a few times. We played lollapalooza and a bunch of festivals. But I’d love to tour here, and I hope we can later.
So you’re here for Oakley?
I’ve been with Oakley for about 12 years now, maybe a little over, and so my role with them has grown dramatically. They supported me as an up-and-coming snowboarder all the way up until now – where I’m actually designing glasses with them. My idea was to make a sunglass that took all the technology and all the great things about Oakley but to put that into a lifestyle piece. A lot of the glasses by Oakley are very function-driven, they have certain things that give it a more aggressive and sporty feel – which is great, because they own that market – but I think lifestyle focus is really resonating with a younger crowd and people, like myself, where it’s a culture thing. I did the Holbrook sunglass with them, and it quickly rose to be their number one model. And now we’ve done the Enduro, which is a different take on another lifestyle piece.
But I really see it more as my excuse to come down here than to work, because it’s such a great time. I brought my skateboard, I get to visit some friends that I haven’t seen in a long time. I definitely think that Oakley is more of a family than a sponsor that’s like telling me to do things. So I’m really fortunate to be in this position. We don’t really do this all that often. With the Enduro, I’ve had so much design input, creative and marketing that I’m happy to talk about it because a lot of it is my own idea – it’s not just like “oh here’s another product that I’m pushing”. It’s an evolution of things that I was involved in and I’m pumped.
So is this more like work than riding? Or less?
Riding is definitely fun. I love doing it. The work is when I’m training for something and I have a goal. It’s frustrating and hard, but the payoff is so rewarding to actually win a competition or film a video part and land a few tricks that no one has done before.
Everybody talks about what’s fun and are like: Oh I’m gonna have a good time. But [working at snowboarding] is fulfilling. It goes beyond just having a good time. It’s rewarding on many levels – that’s what keeps me around.
You spend more time doing comps that video parts?
Yeah it’s two different worlds. It’s just the reality. If you’re not that good at contents, you probably won’t enjoy them. There’s pressure: you have to land tricks, there’s camera crews, a structured time frame; when you have to ride, when you have to practice… It’s really difficult if you don’t like it.
That’s where you seek other avenues and it’s so great that the sport allows for that. If you’re a really slow race-car driver, you can’t really film yourself racing around the parking lot and get people like: “That’s so sick!” You’re toast. You can’t be a slow race-car driver, you either win the race or that’s it. It’s one of those things where it’s so great that the sport has a lifestyle component where you can film yourself doing tricks and put it on the internet and your sponsors will be happy cos it got a lot of views and they’ll give you money to help live your life and dreams and keep it as a profession.
And we’re in such a unique position to be like: I’m going to do 10 contests this year or I’m going to do two contests but I’ll film some parts. I was able to tell my sponsors: “I’m not going do any contests this summer because I’m going on tour with my band.” And they we’re like: “okay.” But I took my skateboard and we filmed the cities I was in and we’ve done some fun stuff. It’s so culture driven.
And that’s why we’re so lucky that the sport allows for filming like that. For me though, as much as I like that, there’s something that has pushed me from a young age and I’ve always competed and wanted to go out and do contests and strive because it makes me a better snowboarder. It makes me go up with a goal in mind. I’m not thinking: oh today I’ll ride and I’ll try and do this new trick. I’m: I have to do this new trick because I have to win this contests, and that’s my motivation – It’s more like ‘I have to’ than ‘I want to’ and that’s what keeps me going.