White and Scott Lago after winning gold and bronze medals, respectively, in the men's snowboard half-pipe event at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia.
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A week before our interview, White’s publicist forwarded a series of topics he and I might want to discuss. Among them: this month’s 16th annual Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo., ostensibly the reason for this very conversation; his clothing and shoe lines that are sold through Target, a sponsor for the last 10 years; his line of sunglasses and goggles with Oakley; his video game titles with Ubisoft; his new Shaun White Supply Co. skateboard line, which rolled out in October 2011; and his new Whitemint gum, the result of a partnership with Stride. As The New York Times reminded upon the debut of Whitemint’s marketing campaign last September, seldom have athletes lent their faces — or tongues, in this case, given White’s insistence on having final flavor approval — to chewing gums, the most recent being LeBron James’ short-lived Lightning Lemonade for Bubblicious.

The other daredevil Shaun, surfer Shaun Tomson.
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We would get to all those topics and more; he is, after all, as much a commodity as he is an athlete, as much a brand as an icon. He might as well have a bar code tattooed to his neck beneath that famous tousle of red. And his appeal spans generations — from the wee grade-school audience (he recently appeared alongside Disney Channel favorites Phineas and Ferb on their short-format talk show, balancing atop an animated circus seal) to the early-bird specialists who watch 60 Minutes.

Last February, there was that “Howlin’ for You” music video for the Black Keys, whose brand of blues turns rock into grit. Done as a phony trailer for some grimy grindhouse offering that should exist but doesn’t, it shows White falling into bed with Battlestar Galactica’s Tricia Helfer, an assassin who’s marked him for execution. He was also Mila Kunis’ half-cocked ex in Friends with Benefits, playing an amped-up version of his real-life self — effortlessly affable, until he threatens to dismantle an aghast Justin Timberlake.

I tell White: Seems like every few weeks there’s something new on the shelves with his name, his face attached to it. He swears: That isn’t the plan. It never was.

Snowboarding has been his business since he was a kid; he’s famously been sponsored since the age of 7. He started only a year before that, and, as with surfing, it wasn’t his choice, but his parents’. “I’d love to say I found snowboarding, but I think it found me,” White says.

Roger and Cathy White had taken Shaun and his older siblings — brother Jesse and sister Kari — skiing. They wouldn’t let Shaun have any poles; he kept hitting Jesse and Kari with them. The kid was dangerous.

(Here, it’s worth noting that many psychologists link fearlessness in children with antisocial tendencies. Per the research-news website ScienceDaily.com, a recent study out of the University of Haifa insists that preschoolers “who demonstrate fearless behavior also reveal less empathy and more aggression towards their peers.” In other words: They don’t feel bad when they collect their friends’ gold medals.)