White in a rare moment of repose.
Wardrobe: Jonny Lozano; Grooming: Shiyena Chin for Exclusive Artists/Redken; Couture Photography: Austin Hargrave
It’s the same away from the competition as well: He says he can’t rest for more than a few days. At some point, he’ll realize he needs to work on something, anything — a product, a charity, a mountain in need of conquering. If not, he gets anxious. “If I were to sit around for five days, I couldn’t relax,” he says, almost shuddering at the thought. He craves the speed: “I always feel like I have something to do.”

He speaks of all his projects with great pride and affection; he’s proud to be hands-on, even when it comes to that gum. Shaun White Supply Co. offers newbies a way into his sport, an entry-level skateboard road-tested by the Dude himself, that, unlike most boards, includes everything from the decks to the kingpin to the width of the wheels. They offer helmets and pads, too, the whole works — Shaun White in a ready-to-roll package, yours for a low-low price.

“This one was right in front of us, and we couldn’t see it,” he says. “I’m like, I’m already at the ramp, and this is such a natural thing that I could test the products and give feedback. This is, like, the entry level.”

White says he will hand over a portion of the proceeds from the Shaun White Supply Co. to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America because, he explains, that’s where he went to “kick it” on after-school afternoons when his parents were working.

White is also involved with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, in part because of his own early experiences with hospitals, where doctors surgically repaired — twice — the damaged heart with which White was born. His particular condition, Tetralogy of Fallot, involves four defects occurring at once — a sort of mega heart condition. With those repairs, perhaps, White was fine-tuned before the age of 1.

There’s little mystery to his popularity: White’s the smiling insurgent, the long hair draped in the American flag, a seller of skateboards and sticks of minty-fresh gum. He’s everywhere now, selling everything — products, yes, but also himself and the dangerous world that created him — to everyone.

“When people ask why the sport became so popular, I like to explain that it is more than a sport,” White says. “It is a culture. It’s the music we listen to, the clothing, everything. It is a way of life, a lifestyle. It is like choosing sides. There’s a path that a lot of people have found.”

But maybe that’s not you, he says. Maybe you’re not into the lifestyle. Maybe you don’t get it. That’s cool. You don’t have to. It’s like golf, right? Some people don’t get that either. Imagine, he says, if aliens came down and watched golf and snowboarding. They’d probably look at golf, he says, and go, “What’s the big deal?” But, he insists, if they tuned in to, you know, the X Games, and there’s Shaun White doing a Front Double Cork 1080, they’d totally get that. How could they not?

After all, he says, grinning: “We’re flying through the air.”

Robert Wilonsky is the editor of Unfair Park, the Dallas Observer’s news blog, and a film critic for Village Voice Media. He bought his first and last skateboard in 1978, not including the one he purchased for his 8-year-old son.