THE ENGAGING ESPN documentary Don't Look Down chronicles a year in the life of Shaun White, the world's most recognizable extreme athlete. It's not always a glamorous existence, especially the mundane tasks like sitting down to do a one-on-one with a newspaperman—and then being asked to pose for a picture with the writer afterward—or listing for separate interviewers his favorite works of pop culture. (White rattles off Led Zep, Journey and a book on M√∂tley Cr√ºe before asking a questioner, with genuine earnestness, "Do you know who the Ninja Turtles are?")
This is an article from the Jan. 26, 2009 issue
White, who has lived much of his life in the public eye, seems especially open and at ease in Down, which was directed by Willie Ebersol, who is the same age, 22, as White. (The son of the chairman of NBC Sports, Dick Ebersol, and actress Susan Saint James, Willie shot his first documentary when he was 16.) Don't Look Down, which was released on DVD last week, doesn't have a monumental event, such as the Olympics, to build to. But Ebersol crafts a compelling narrative out of White's post-Turin funk. After a poor showing at the 2007 Winter X Games, where winning a bronze and a silver left him near tears, White decides that his shot at redemption will be the vert skateboarding competition at the 2007 Summer X Games.
A recurring theme of White's talking-head segments is how he feels spread thin. To get away from it all before the Summer X Games, he goes on a junket to Rwanda, one of the few places on the planet where he can go unrecognized. The redhead revels in his anonymity; instead of asking him for his autograph, the kids only want to know what those orange dots on his arms and face are. The shots of a smiling, carefree White teaching the children a few skateboarding basics contrasts nicely with the first scene after his return to the States: practicing his skateboarding in a cold, antiseptic warehouse. For White, who never stops moving during Down, it's back to business.