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White Becoming Dual Action Hero

Only 16 and already a top snowboarder, he has taken up skateboarding and figures to make an impact in that sport at the X Games.

August 13, 2003|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

This is the kid who's going to rip through the framework of action sports?

This kid with the ski-pole physique and the red mop atop his head?

A kid who, until recently, couldn't use the car or truck he'd won in competition because he wasn't old enough to drive?

Oh yes, they say, Shaun White is the one.

"LeBron James is essentially the Shaun White of basketball," said Kurt Hoy, editor of Trans- World Snowboarding magazine.

White is 5 feet 6 and 130 pounds, but he'd be this year's top selection if there were an action sports draft.

He already has proven himself as a snowboarder, coming within a whisker of making the U.S. Olympic team last year as a reed-thin 15-year-old with coltish legs. Now he is attempting a rare crossover into the summer side of action sports, hoping to make an impact at the X Games as a skateboarder.

If he is successful, as some people predict he will be, White would be an action-sport athlete akin only to James ... if the top pick in the NBA draft had football skills that matched his basketball talent.

The big spenders are noticing.

Target, PlayStation, Mountain Dew and Oakley have signed White to lucrative sponsor deals, as have industry or "core" companies such as snowboard-maker Burton and action sports clothing designer Volcom.

His annual income from endorsements and prize money is between $1 million and $3 million, industry sources said.

White, 16, was winning snowboarding competitions as a 4-11, 100-pound mound of snow. Now he can be seen on an 80-foot mural on a Sunset Boulevard building, part of an extensive ad campaign by one of his sponsors.

And still, there are people at Carlsbad High who wouldn't know White if they were sitting next to him in chemistry class. White is rarely home because of his travel schedule and, thus, rarely in school. (He takes independent-study courses to stay afloat academically.)

His frequent-flier account is bulging because of competitions in countries too numerous to name. A good start would be Japan, Argentina, Italy, Norway and Australia.

Closer to home, he recently completed a cross-country skateboarding tour headlined by skating maven Tony Hawk. The rookie on the tour, White was hazed mercilessly by the veterans.

"They duct-taped me into a chair [and] ruined me with baking soda and peanut butter sandwiches," White said. "They were trying to break me into skateboarding. They were like, 'What's this snowboarding stuff?' "

They weren't laughing when he took fourth in the skateboard vert at the Slam City Jam in Vancouver, Canada, finishing ahead of skate guru Bucky Lasek, among others, and qualifying for the X Games.

As pro snowboarder Dave Downing said: "On two feet, he's just a goofy kid, but on a snowboard, or even a skateboard, he's absolutely amazing."

The pressure at Staples Center will be greater than at any other venue where White has skated. The X Games, in their ninth year, have never been in a city as large as Los Angeles.

"I'm pretty used to the competition format and how it goes with the runs because I've done so much snowboarding that I'm used to the pressure," he said. "I feel like when I get to X Games I'm going to mellow out and have some fun. That's when I do the best."

Apparently, he's pretty mellow whenever he's on a snowboard.

White was the national amateur champion from 1994-98 and just missed qualifying for the Salt Lake City Olympics because of what some fellow snowboarders called faulty scoring by the judges.

White was crushed, but he continued to compete.

He won a truck for being the leader in the Vans Triple Crown overall title and took home a car at the Toyota Big Air. He couldn't even drive at the time, but it didn't matter to his growing mass of fans.

"People relate to seeing a kid his age, especially because of his modesty and his personality," Hoy said. "They say, 'Hey, that could be me.'

"It's not a show and it's not an act on Shaun's part. Any kid could walk up to Shaun and say hi. If anything, Shaun would be the shy one."

As for Thursday and Friday at Staples Center?

"If he puts together a run like he's capable of, he'll be among the top few," Hoy said. "And he'll probably be on the podium."

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