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He Has More Than a Snow Job

Times Staff Writer

Inside his personal tour bus, a vehicle that will chauffeur him around Los Angeles while he plays games on a PlayStation2, watches video feeds of practice runs and listens to Led Zeppelin on the surround-sound stereo system, Shaun White is lounging on a plush sofa.

“Did you see the leopard print?” He points excitedly to his queen-sized bed in the back of the bus.

When he is not competing in skateboard events at the X Games, or signing autographs for fans, or being photographed for magazine covers, this is where Shaun White, also known as the Flying Tomato, will spend his downtime -- a tricked-out tour bus courtesy of one of his sponsors.

After his gold-medal performance in the snowboarding halfpipe at the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, White will easily be the most recognizable athlete at X Games XII this weekend.

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He has appeared on talk shows, hamming it up with Jay Leno, David Letterman and Martha Stewart. He has walked the red carpet at awards shows, most recently the ESPYs. He has shot TV commercials, will be featured in an upcoming video game and has a bevy of sponsors.

He has even appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone, and Sports Illustrated, Sports Illustrated for Kids and ESPN the Magazine, for that matter.

“It’s rad, things have changed so much,” White said, pausing to survey his roving palace. “I travel a bit differently now.”

While his fame has grown exponentially since the Olympics in February, friends say White’s laid-back manner has remained in check.

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He makes it a point to chat with young fans and seeks their advice during training sessions. He flirts with girls who swoon over his wild red hair. He’s humble and wide-eyed, as if he can’t quite imagine all this success is possible for a 19-year-old from Carlsbad.

“Everything is still an amazing surprise for him,” said longtime friend Tony Hawk, a skateboarding legend.

A week ago, White appeared on “The Tonight Show” for the second time in six months, yet trembled in the dressing room before taking the stage.

“I always get so nervous before these things,” he said.

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Moments later, sitting between Leno and comedian Tom Arnold, White drew the biggest laughs, his wide-eyed delivery resonating with the studio audience.

Afterward, White posed for pictures with fans, then retreated to his dressing room to reflect on the experience. One by one, each celebrity guest left the NBC studio, until, seemingly, only White and his small entourage remained.

After a few minutes, Leno popped his head in.

“Check-out time, kid,” he joked. “We need the room.”

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White obliged and exited the building, taking off in a black stretch limousine.

The attention is magnified, as White seems to have transcended the action sport boundaries.

Now, he said, fans who have never been on a skateboard or snowboard stop him in the street. “I don’t know what you do,” they say, “but I just like your interviews.”

And he seems to have that support, no matter how bad a performance. In his first skateboard event since the Olympics, White finished last in the prelims at the Louisville stop of the Dew Action Sports Tour in June, failing to qualify for the finals. “I had all this confidence going into the first event and I totally tanked,” he said.

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Depressed as he entered the autograph signing area, White was unsure how the fans would receive him.

“The kids were just ballistic,” he said. “They were so pumped to see me. I walked out of that and said, ‘Wow.’ They push you up so much.”

White, who is making his 11th X Games appearance this weekend, is the first athlete to win a medal in both the winter and summer games. He has won six gold and two silver medals in the winter games but only a silver during the summer.

There are signs White has matured greatly since returning from the Olympics. He and his family, including older brother Jesse, who serves as his manager, have lived in the same Carlsbad house that White purchased for them all in 2003.

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Two weeks ago, however, White bought his fourth house, this one in a gated community not far from where he lives now, and instead of merely an investment, he expects to live there soon.

“Now this is my official home,” White said. “I’m moving out alone. I’m tripping. I’m just pumped to get my own space.”

A change of addresses was necessary. Since an appearance on “MTV Cribs,” the family house has attracted zealous fans and even petty criminals. Once, White returned from an event to find a prom invitation written in chalk on his driveway. Another time, a skateboard was swiped from the front of his house after he left it outside overnight.

During the X Games, he’ll take advantage of his spacious tour bus to shield himself from the heat and from throngs of fans asking for even more time than he already generously gives.

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“It definitely feels like I’ve hit this point where my career is kind of building,” White said. “It’s gaining a lot of momentum compared to the last couple years. Now it feels like it’s moving.”


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