Many people, even fans, felt a degree of contempt toward Shaun Palmer when he hung up his freestyle shoes and started racing boardercross. Palm seemed to think that snowboarding fused with elements of motocross would be the future of snowboarding. Unfortunately, it took on more of a street-luge feel-racers and jocks battling each other down a gauntlet of icy tabletops and banks only to cross the finish line patting each other’s asses. Amid the storm of hype-then successive rejection of this discipline-a lot of individuals forgot (or never really knew) what Shaun Palmer was all about. Long before being deemed the X-Games/corporate-media “bad boy of boardercross,” he was an accomplished and amazing freestyle snowboarder-and still is. He can jump, ride the pipe, and throw down on rails. His influence in the sport runs deep, beginning when he first put left foot forward.
From the get-go, he embodied everything that was dope about snowboarding-he was young, talented, and punk. Almost immediately he was deemed the anti-Christ by the snowboard industry. Shaun’s cocky attitude qualified him as an egomaniac with the media. Despite this negativity, he could not be humbled. Shaun summed it up best when he said, “I’m damn good.” But Shaun repeatedly put the money where his mouth was and came away victorious.
His attitude wasn’t the only thing rubbing people the wrong way, though-his off-snow antics were also under close scrutiny. Shaun was pulling off crazy stunts when Johnny Knoxville was still in diapers. He’s a calculated loose cannon, and he always has an escape route. Still, he can’t always predict the consequences of his actions-and repercussions have been severe. Banned from contests, kicked out of foreign countries, and blamed for the shenanigans of others, he’s continued to speak his mind, not giving a damn who he offends.
As a youth he stayed busy racing motorbikes and skiing with the likes of Brad Holmes and Glen Plake. Shaun skated vert and made the transition to riding snowboards. Before he was able to drive, he’d hitchhike from the south to the north shore of Lake Tahoe to ride with Keith Kimmel, Mike Chantry, Bud Fawcett, Bob Klein, and Terry Kidwell. Shaun’s snowboarding with the earliest legends in the sport is perhaps why his style is so timeless. During his career, Shaun’s racked up three world-championship titles in halfpipe, six X-Games medals-several for Athlete Of The Year. He’s received extensive magazine and video coverage-there was no doubt that Shaun was indeed one of snowboarding’s best. Somewhere along the way, though, Shaun either got bored or burned out. He’s pursued other sports at the professional level with minimal training-car racing, motocross, downhill mountain biking, skiing, and snowmobiling. His profusion of natural talent appears to be mind control over the other athletes. He accomplishes in a season what others in the field have trained for years to do. And he wins.
Recently though, it seems that Shaun slowed down a bit from athletic competition, momentarily disappearing from the media’s searchlights. For most of this past summer he was water-skiing on Fallen Leaf Lake near Lake Tahoe in a new MasterCraft-sponsored ski boat. Imagine that … Palmer the professional water-skier? Thankfully, Shaun went up to Hood late in the summer to shoot an ad for his new Activision game Shaun Palmer’s Pro Snowboarder. At Hood, it appears a new fire to ride was lit under his ass. Although he hadn’t ridden pipe in five or six years he was still boosting smooth leans and backside airs head high. Just like he never left.
After the summer camps closed, Shaun rented a space from the mountain and had a pipe built for training. When the snowmelted in Oregon, Palm took off to Europe for several months, flying back to Tahoe only to see his girlfriend and attend parties for the video game. This winter’s snow has him regularly riding pipe in the States again-but for what purpose, only he knows. With a new bbag of tricks including McTwists and frontside nines, mixed in with circa 1980s cowboy Cabs and Palm airs, Shaun might just surprise us all again. It’s no longer just a rumor-he’s back in the halfpipe, where many of us wish he had stayed the whole time. In 1998 the national newspaper USA Today asked readers the question, “Is Shaun Palmer the world’s greatest athlete?” The best answer to this-check the stats and make up your own damn mind.