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Shaun White makes the jump from Olympic half-pipe to virtual slopes

November 3, 2009 |  6:00 am
Shaun White
Shaun White shows off his new game for the Nintendo Wii. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times.

Shaun White used to battle with his older brother Jesse for control over the family's PlayStation game console while the two grew up near San Diego. Now, at 23, the Olympic snowboarder gets to star in his own video game, Shaun White Snowboarding: World Stage, set to hit shelves on Sunday.

Developed by Ubisoft Entertainment, the game is a sequel to White's first title, which sold more than 3 million copies since its release last November.

White may not be a household name, but neither was Tony Hawk when he came out with his first video game 10 years ago, Tony Hawk Pro Skater. Now some fans know Hawk more through his virtual stunts than his actual work on the ramps. Could the same be true for White someday?

White spoke to us about how he got his start in snowboarding, what he wants people to get out of playing his video game and who he aspires to become. Here's a video of part of our interview with White, taken by Times videographer, Myung Chun:

And, for old school reader types, here's an edited transcript of the conversation:

How did a kid from Carlsbad, Calif., grow up to be a snowboarder?

I ended up going to Big Bear skiing with my family. When my brother started snowboarding, I did too. I was 6 then, and I started to compete when I was 7. I actually grew up in Del Mar and Carmel Valley. The schools were really good, but they didn’t recognize my sport. At the time I had money saved up [from winning snowboarding competitions and sponsorships], so I bought a house in Carlsbad as an investment when I was 13, and that let me go to school in Carlsbad. The schools there really supported me when I competed.

Didn’t you want to surf instead?

My dad got me a huge board when I was little. He loves to surf. He suited me up and sent me out on this huge wave. I went under, and when I came out and the board hit me in the face. So I said, I never wanted to do this again. I stayed away until I was 13.

One of your sponsors, Red Bull, last February built you a private half-pipe in Silverton, Colo., called Project X. Is that going to appear in the game?

It actually is. There’s a special...

... Red Bull level where that half-pipe turns up. It’s a fun way to bring in something I’ve actually done in real life into the game. It’s cool to actually have people see footage of that, and now players can ride it. What’s special about it was that it was so high up on the mountain.

How involved were you in developing the game with Ubisoft?

Ubisoft sent me updates of the game for my comments. It’s hard because I can’t actually tell the programmers how to program. But I was able to help out when they were designing the game in the beginning. We talked about whether we wanted it to be an adventure game, whether you get to be yourself or someone else. The other thing I do is I read through the scripts. There’s a lot of stereotype snowboard lingo that we don’t actually say.

What do you want players to get out of the game?

The goal of the game is to get someone who never goes snowboarding to get the feel for what it’s actually like to ride. If you play the game, you get the same point of view I get when I ride. When you add the balance board, it definitely enhances that. Feeling because you’re able to lean and turn. I also think it’s rad to be able to go in the game and do things I can’t do in real life.

How does the new game, Shaun White Snowboarding: World Stage, top the previous one?

The first game was based on a road trip with your friends. This one is bigger. You get to go all over the world.

Do you play any video games in your free time?

I play Mario Kart. When I was 12 years old, I was hanging out with 23-year-olds. I was into cartoons and Pokemon, and they’re all talking about girls. It was a strange way to grow up. Games have always a big part of my life. I was that kid freaking out over his new Nintendo. Now I have the Wii, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3. You have to imagine being stuck in a mountain -- you’re snowed in and you can’t even leave the hotel. So I spent a lot of time playing games.

You’re also an accomplished professional skateboarder. Are the skills in those two sports similar?

They’re similar in a way. It’s similar in the way you can do airs and the way you balance. But it’s also so different. I personally think skateboarding is harder because it has so many moving parts. With snowboarding, your feet are strapped to your board. A lot of the guys who snowboard also skateboard for fun. That’s just part of the culture. But I’m really competitive in everything I do. In the summer, I’d skate as hard as I boarded. So I decided to go pro when I was 16.

What do you think of Tony Hawk’s new game, Ride?

I haven’t played it, but I’m excited to see what it’s like. He’s sort of my neighbor because he lives one freeway exit away. He’s got his own skate park at his house. I sometimes go there and mess around.

Who’s your hero?

I’m not sure. But I know who I want to be.

Who?

My dog. He just lies around and gets petted all day. He’s been in two Target commercials. His name is Rambo. He’s a French bulldog. We have a T-shirts at Target with Rambo on it, and it’s the third-best-selling shirt. I see kids wear my dog on their shirts now. It’s amazing.

-- Alex Pham

Follow my random thoughts on games, gear and technology on Twitter @AlexPham.

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