Shaun White on his Olympic Omega watches and why timing really matters

Three-time Olympic gold medal-winning snowboarder Shaun White on why timing is so important, in life as well as in his career

By Kim Parker

The five-time Olympian, three-time Olympic gold medallist, Shaun White, has picked up a few nicknames throughout his stellar career on the slopes.

A prodigiously talented snowboarder from the age of seven, the Californian turned professional at 13 and picked up his first nickname, ‘Future Boy’, when he was identified as a champion-in-the-making. His next sobriquet, the ‘Flying Tomato’, came about because of his thick red locks, but this was later superseded by ‘Animal’, after his supposed resemblance to the Muppets Show character.

Earlier this year, after almost twenty years at the forefront of American snowboarding, and with an astonishing 13 Winter X Games titles (not to mention a clutch of gold medals) to his name, White became an ‘Ex-Professional’ when he announced he would retire from professional snowboarding after the 2022 Beijing Games.

Shaun White in action at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games. The champion announced these would be his last Games as a professional snowboarder.

Now, as the 36-year old contemplates the next stage of his career, there will be new monikers to accompany his journey. ‘Boss Man,’ perhaps, as White launched his own activewear brand, Whitespace, in January this year. ‘Philanthropist’, should also make the cut. White supports many charities including St. Jude Children’s Research Centre (White was born with a congenital heart condition and underwent two heart surgeries as a baby), The Tony Hawk Foundation and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

One title White currently also wears is that of ‘ambassador’. He is an official ‘face’ of Olympic timekeeper Omega, and wears the brand’s Seamaster Planet Ocean 600m Co-Axial Master Chronometer 45.5mm watch. Appropriately for someone with so many gold medals to his name, White’s chunky timepiece is crafted in Omega’s own red alloy gold, called Sedna Gold.

We sat down with White to talk about why timing has been so crucial throughout his career, his hopes for the future and why, whenever he travels, he likes to keep his watch tuned to West Coast US time.

Shaun White is currently an ambassador for Omega watches

Q: So Shaun, what does it take to be a champion snowboarder? And how important is timing to the sport?

A: You’ve gotta want it. I’d say the work is probably 70% mental. You’re flying around the world, you’re jet lagged, you’re tired and you’ve just got to show up. You have to put yourself in a state of complete confidence when you attempt the tricks, because a lot of them are quite dangerous. I’ve seen athletes who have the ability, but then the fear just seeps in. It can be hard to get over that. I feel like I’m very calculated [on the slopes]. Like, is the wind good? How am I feeling today? Will there be a better time to try this trick? I’ve pulled out of major events before, because the timing wasn’t right. One of the craziest was at the Olympics in Russia [the Sochi Games in 2014] – I pulled out of the slopestyle event. I had to listen to my gut. I got a lot of scrutiny for that, but you’ve gotta be confident. Fast forward four years to the next Olympics, and I was still winning.

Timing really is everything. I learned so much about timing during competitions. I used to over practice. I’d show up super early and do seven perfect runs and feel like, ‘Ok, yeah, I’m ready.’ And then I would fall every time in the contest. I learned to take my time. I would show up later, maybe do two runs, get warmed up and be like, ‘now, it’s on.’ I would be fresh and ready to go, instead of burning the candle down. You want to peak at a certain point, so you can do your best.

Shaun White’s Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean 600m Co-Axial Master Chronometer 45.5mm watch

Q: How does your Omega watch fit into your lifestyle?

Omega’s been such a huge supporter of the Olympics. And when I think of them, I also think of James Bond. I think of going to the Moon. It’s the adventurer’s watch, and I feel that blends in well with snowboarding. I don’t normally ride with my Seamaster on – it’s more chunky, so it’s for fun and for going with a [fashion] look. I usually take a Speedmaster when I’m on the mountain. It fits under my glove, it’s waterproof and weather-resistant. I know it’s not gonna seize up on me.

Q: Now that you’ve retired from professional snowboarding, what’s next for your career?

I’ve had a couple of people tell me I should try and surrender to the ‘nothingness’, and not immediately jump into something [else], just to have something significant in my life. I’ve spoken to other athletes and they’ve also said, “don’t stop working out. Keep up the fitness levels, both mentally and physically.”

I’ve been fortunate enough to go on a pretty epic vacation recently with my girlfriend [the actress Nina Dobrev]. And the thing I’m also really excited about is the brand I started with my brother. It’s called Whitespace and we do snowboards and activewear. Whenever I see someone with one of our products, I think, ‘wow, I made that. I test rode that. I remember that as a napkin drawing!’ I still have a Burton snowboard that the brand sent me after my mom called them when I was a kid, to ask if they made snowboards for children. It’s green, with a square tail. I got inspired by it, and got into doing competitions and that’s how it all started. I get chills thinking I could do that for someone in the next generation.

Shaun White with his parter, the actress Nina Dobrev, at the Omega Masters Golf in Gstaad, Switzerland

Q: What have been some memorable moments from your career so far?

Every Olympic Games was amazing. They are untouchable. But I have to say my first Games [the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics] was something I will remember forever. When I was a kid, snowboarding was kind of a misunderstood sport, and there wasn’t really a clear path for career progression. Certain mountains wouldn’t even allow snowboarding on their slopes. We had to fight a lot for legitimacy. I remember sliding down to the bottom of the Corral area at Turin, and thinking, ‘Oh this is great, I did it!’ But then they brought my family in, and everyone’s crying, and my mom was like, “You don’t get it. The magnitude of all this. You will forever be known as Shaun White, the Olympic medallist. That title will follow you.” And I just tripped. I felt like, at last, we had made it. That moment changed my life.

Another great moment was the day I had earned enough money from my snowboarding, I think I must have been 15, to pay off a loan that my parents had taken on our house. My family took a big risk to launch my career, so to be able to do that for them was incredible.

Q: Is that why you like to keep your watch tuned to West Coast time? So you can keep in touch with them?

A: Yeah, we’re all close. We travelled together in a van for years from contest to contest. Everyone rode, my mom, dad, brother and sister. My father never had to yell snowboarding advice at me from the sidelines, he was riding right there with me. It was awesome. Whenever I’m travelling and jet lagged, it’s nice to be able to wake up at like, 4.30 or 5am, and think, “I wonder what’s going on [at home]?” and give them a call. Maybe I should get a watch with more dials on it, so I can see all of the different time zones at once.

Like this? Read about Omega’s iconic MoonSwatch, the timepiece that’s selling out all over the world

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