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'Future Boy' is fan favorite on snowboard

PARK CITY — Meet a real-life version of Boy Meets (Fantasy) World.

Shaun White doesn't just watch the Winter X Games on television. He rides a snowboard in them. He'll no longer just read about other athletes featured in Sports Illustrated, because he's soon to be one. He won't just play the latest Tony Hawk's Pro Skater video game. He'll be in it when the third version comes out.

How cool is that for a 14-year-old?

So cool he should have a head about the size of Jupiter. But he only seems to have his nose in the air — when he's soaring in the halfpipe. His older brother and sister help keep his ego in check whenever he manages a few minutes at home in San Diego.

White and his mother, Cathy, were at Park City Mountain Resort earlier this week for the World Cup snowboard halfpipe contest. The freckle-faced redhead had the second-highest qualifying score before dropping to fifth place but picking up a legion of new fans.

Dozens of kids mobbed him after the event Thursday seeking autographs or a photo. He dutifully signed every poster and T-shirt.

But White couldn't stay long. He was off Thursday evening for a Sports Illustrated photo shoot with the skateboarding legend Hawk.

"I've ridden with him a couple times. He's amazing, the best skater ever, pretty much. It was pretty rad to be able to ride with him," White said.

Whether skateboarding or snowboarding, White does it with the best of them.

Snowboard manufacturing giant Burton sponsors him. His passport includes stamps from Japan, Norway, Costa Rica and Argentina. He has competed at the best winter resorts in the United States since turning pro at age 13. He has managed a couple of Top 10 finishes in big-time halfpipe events this year, and one of his goals is to compete in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

And somewhere along the way, he picked up the tag "Future Boy."

Heady stuff for a kid who hasn't popped his first pimple.

"I've seen other kids that have turned bad with getting some fame and stuff," he said. "I just try to keep it mellow."

By most accounts, White is just another snowboarder on the tour. Judges don't seem to give him baby points because of his age. Other riders don't seem to treat him any differently. But he is probably the only one who travels with a parent in tow.

One thing White doesn't have is stage parents. Mom and dad don't push their son. Cathy White said it's just the opposite.

"I prefer him not to be in the snow. I just think it's really healthy for him to be a kid first and a snowboarder later. Just have fun and make sure he has a childhood. It's really important to us. I wouldn't let him do inverts (flips) for a long, long time and I held him back," she said.

White suffered a concussion in a crash in Japan, and he severely bruised his tailbone after wiping out on a jump when he was younger. The botched landing broke his snowboard in half. White was hurt worse on his skateboard. He collided with an aerial skater during the MTV Sport and Music Fest in Texas, breaking his hand and foot.

Cathy White's stomach does flip-flops every time she watches him compete. She can't wait for an event be over.

"It worries me a lot what he's doing. But he has the drive and the confidence. The minute he said I don't want to do it, I'd be ripping (his gear) off and making him go and do something else. But it's his choice. His dad's kind of like that, too. He's kind of a crazy guy," she said. White is one of a few halfpipe riders who wears a helmet.

White started snowboarding at age 6, partly because his older brother Jesse was doing it and partly because he was a speed demon on skis and his mother thought switching to a snowboard would slow him down. He learned his snow and street tricks hanging out with friends. He doesn't have a coach.

"We don't believe in that," Cathy White said, adding that with the Olympics looming he might work with someone a "little bit" next year.

White attends school until January and then takes independent study courses on the road. When he's home he likes to surf, play tennis and have soft-gun wars with his friends.

And despite his increasing popularity, White says he doesn't feel any pressure to take the future by storm.

"Nah, not at all. I just do my thing," he said. "I'm always trying to win. Every now and then it happens. Every now and then you don't make it. I'm just out here having fun. That's all that matters."


E-mail: romboy@desnews.com