Shaun White goes underground to gain X Games edge

Shaun White has climbed into seclusion once more, presumably to master the 1080, an incredibly difficult trick despite its simplicity: three full spins above the halfpipe wall on a skateboard.

The red-haired action sports phenom will need something special to prevail in tonight’s X Games skateboard Vert and Vert Best-Trick competitions, because he has spent so much time away from skateboarding to focus on snowboarding.

And White knows better than anyone that a 1080, which has never been landed in a skateboarding competition, is as good as gold.

The secrecy tactic has become an effective trademark for the two-sport showman. Last winter one of his sponsors, Red Bull, carved for its star athlete a private halfpipe in the Colorado backwoods. White used it to learn new tricks, mostly variations of 1080s and even a 1260, and won gold with dominating performances at the 2010 Winter X Games and the Vancouver Olympics.

(White recently won ESPY awards as the top male Olympic athlete, and the top male action sports athlete.)

More recently, White has been practicing skateboarding tricks on a private ramp in a warehouse soundstage at Paramount Studios. The warehouse was rented and the ramp was built and is being maintained by another of his sponsors, Target.

“I’ve been breaking myself every day to learn new tricks and it’s just been flowing back,” White told an ESPN reporter. “I’m excited to get going and see what I can do.”

Most people figure his plan is to stick the 1080, once and for all.

White, 23, has not competed at the summer X Games since 2008, when he won a bronze medal in Vert. He did not medal in the Best-Trick competition because he could not land the 1080 — although he came close a couple of times — after repeated efforts.

The 1080, which is much more dificult on a skateboard because it has no footstraps and a skateboarder cannot attain nearly as much height as a snowboarder, would allow White to overcome the rust factor.

Until very recently he has been nursing a sore ankle, and it’s not known how much Olympic fame and his many projects — including launching a new shoe line with Target — might have taken him off his game.

Landing a 1080, White knows, would become a huge X Games moment. It’d be similar in scope to when the iconic Tony Hawk became the first to land a 900 at a competition during the 2001 X Games.

All these years later, only a handful of skateboarders are able to land a 900, so imagine the applause that would rain on White if he can pull off the 1080.

“Skateboarding is not about the 1080, but if it happens, and I think it’s possible, especially with Shaun because he’s so talented, it would be amazing,” said Bob Burnquist, a veteran X Games vert finalist. “But I don’t like talking about new tricks until they happen.”

Perhaps Burnquist, who won the Vert Best-Trick competition in 2005, will be more talkative after tonight’s competitions; and expect White to be talkative only if he makes the podium.

— Photo: Shaun White in X Games vert action in 2008, when he won the bronze medal. Credit: Brian Brantley / Shazamm / ESPN Images