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Beginnings: The Breakthrough Moment

Shaun White, Snowboarder

"I was pretty much a kid who felt like he already had everything. I just wanted to snowboard."

Counting yen in a Japanese hotel room, 2002.  

I was kind of a horrible child. I mean, I was like that redheaded monster child. I had so much energy and I had so much passion for what I was doing — whether it was soccer or handball and things like that. It was mostly soccer, I think, was my jam at the time.

When I first started skiing, at 4 years old, my mom didn’t allow me poles — ski poles — because I was so into kung fu and the Ninja Turtles stuff that I would hit people. I would try to sword-fight with my siblings. I was just that kid. But once I got into snowboarding it was like, “This could be his outlet.” I wasn’t thinking that, I was just thinking, Wow, they’re going to let me keep snowboarding. That sounds great. But my parents were like, “He can get his energy out this way rather than other ways, as you get older.”

I don’t know when I realized I was really good. I mean, I don’t really think that’s a thing you tell yourself. It’s more just that you maybe decide, like, Wow, this is something I want to do for a long time rather than just a short time. But I remember there was a guy named Ross Powers — he was winning all of the events. And I’m doing the simple math in my head of what my parents made, working full-time jobs, combined, and what this guy was making just by winning these events, and I’m thinking, Wow, I would rather do this than what my parents do. I was probably like 13 or 14. At 15, I won an event in Japan called the Toyota Big Air. It was like this big prize purse of $50,000 and a car. I’m 15 and I’m like, Whoa, this is crazy! I mean, I was pretty much a kid who felt like he already had everything. I just wanted to snowboard. If I was going to buy something, I’d buy a snowboard.