From landing a Burton sponsorship at age 7, going pro at 13, running up a record 15 gold medals at the X Games and rocking the stage with his band Bad Things, the San Diego-bred two-time gold medalist rides like his favorite music sounds: loud, unpredictable and hard. So far, it seems to be working, with White atop the leader board after Monday night’s (Feb. 12) qualifying runs in the halfpipe at Phoenix Snow Park.
White, who was among the world-beating athletes featured in a pre-Olympics “Above the Noise” campaign from Beats by Dre, spoke to Billboard before leaving for the Olympics about the importance music (and specifically his favorite Beats headphones) plays in his training and focus.
“I was sent a pair of Studio3 headphones out to New Zealand while I was training. And unfortunately, the day that I got there I had crashed,” he says of his hard-to-watch crackup in October, which resulted in 62 stitches in his face and questions about whether he was going to be able to redeem his 2014 Olympic wipe out at this year’s games. “I cut my face and I bruised my lungs, and I had to get flown to the hospital. So yeah, it was a dark moment. You know, any athlete — we take our falls, our crashes and we get back up. But my coach shows up and he hands me the headphones. And to paint the picture, I’m sitting in a room with like five to six athletes, all various injuries. It’s getting towards night time and I want to go to sleep but I just can’t because everyone is having their own struggle.”
And then, he says, he put on his headphones: “It took me to another world, honestly. It really saved me. I was listening to some music, but I had a couple of tracks that emulated the sound of the rainforest, and it was just god-sent. It was the best thing.”
It might be no surprise that White’s list contains not one, but two songs from his girlfriend Sarah Barthel’s band, Phantogram, plus some ragers from the Black Lips, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and chillers from Washed Out and Roxy Music.
“Music is just such a powerful thing,” he says. “I always bring up the example of how they play music at the top of the half-pipe when you’re about to compete and drop in… you have three guys left. Okay, now there’s two guys, one more and then you’re up. You have nerves and thoughts running through your head, all these different things and emotions. Then you put on your favorite song and all those emotions then change from these doubts to this theme song to your life. You start thinking, ‘This might just be my moment, this might be the thing that pushes me over the edge,’ and it really kind of sets those nerves at ease. I love to have music playing at all times while I’m riding. It really sets the tone for what you’re doing.”
So, what does White listen to when he’s getting pumped up to drop into the pipe? Check out his playlist below and some snapshots from South Korea.