The Midas touch

It’s the ones who work the hardest who make it look easy.

Halfpipe snowboarding’s golden boy Scotty James is a web TV star, Olympic hero and Audi ambassador – what’s next on the agenda?

Ben Smithurst

Red Bull

18 March, 2020

Scotty James would be infuriating if he weren’t so laidback and well-mannered and reasonable –  but sometimes he is infuriating anyway. It’s impossible to follow his career and not feel like an underachiever. His life is like a Choose Your Own Adventure book where you read all the chapters concurrently. 

“Does everything I touch turn to gold?” he laughs, in his lo-fi drawl. It’s a couple of days before the World Cup halfpipe season finale in Calgary, Canada. It’s six months since James joined the Audi ambassador family; hasn’t been beaten in the halfpipe in two years. “No, it’s definitely not all sunshine and rainbows,” he says. “But I’m actually grateful that it’s not always perfect. If it was, I don’t think it would be very enjoyable for myself.”

Here is a snapshot of the enjoyable, not-always-perfect life of Scotty James, 25, as the northern winter winds up. He is:

  • A three-times world halfpipe snowboarding champion, X Games gold medallist, and Australia’s most recent winter Olympic flagbearer. 
  • The handsome and emotionally secure boyfriend of Chloe Stroll, devastatingly gorgeous daughter of a Canadian, F1-team-owning fashion billionaire. 
  • The star of online mockumentary comedy series All Day SJ. One of Red Bull TV’s most popular ever productions, the ‘Entourage-on-snow’ has racked up millions of views. (James plays himself). 
  • The only ever Audi Australia ambassador to hail from Warrandyte, Victoria. (Vehicle of choice: a Misano Red RS 4 Avant. “It gets the adrenalin going,” he says.)

Not to mention laidback and well-mannered and reasonable. Close family. Good hair. In the sweet spot of fame: well-known, universally respected, but not so lauded he can’t go to the shops. 

Infuriated yet? Perhaps but jealousy is a curse and at any rate Scotty has earned his success. Australia’s best chance for winter Olympic gold into the foreseeable future is the hardest working man in the halfpipe.

It’s impossible to follow his career and not feel like an underachiever

When you’re the one being hunted down the challenge isn’t always necessarily about winning, it’s about maintaining that hunger

“Yeah, it’s been going amazingly as of late,” he says, “you know, just keeping [the undefeated run] rolling and… I kind of pinch myself. It’s been great and I’ve been able to maintain my position, which is much harder than actually getting to this point. A lot of people are trying to knock me off my perch but I’ve been trying to stay strong.”

Which is hard, says James – not just physically (staying fit, nailing new tricks, avoiding injury). It’s also mental.

At every event, he says, he is a target.

“For sure,” he says. “It’s funny, I worked so hard to get to this point, and the aspiration and motivation is always there when you get up and you go to the gym: that motivation is ‘I want to be world champion, I want to be the best in my sport, I want to be dominant’. 

“That is and always will be my goal, but you’ve got to adapt. When you’re the one being hunted down the challenge isn’t always necessarily about winning, it’s about maintaining that hunger to want to win every day. My purpose is always evolving. That’s been the key ingredient to me being so consistent.”

And then there’s All Day SJ. 

When he last spoke with Audi Magazine, Red Bull TV’s hit show – a high-production value reimagining of an earlier, more amateurish series James had made with his brothers – had yet to drop. Since then, it’s gone from strength to strength. All Day SJ has made a minor star out of James’s elder brother, Tim, who plays his hapless agent, Quinton Peck. It’s also allowed him to bring on some of his mates as guest stars. 

If you’re insecure, the curriculum vitae of Scotty’s friends is also intimidating.

First season cameos include such sporting luminaries as three-times world champion surfer, Mick Fanning, Formula 1 advertisement for Australian dentistry, Dan Ricciardo, and skateboarding legend Tony Hawke. Individual episodes run to around 15 minutes.

“Oh, there were some amazing cameos,” says James. “Tony Hawk has always been a big role model for me, and then obviously Daniel Riccardo is a bit of an Australian hero and a friend of mine, and he was pretty fun to work with.” (The Honey Badger appears in the first episode, dropping in to offer Scotty advice at an awkward underwear shoot.) 

“It was funny – whenever we tried to organise cameos it was really hard for me to explain the show,” says James. “So no one really knew what they were getting themselves into – especially Daniel. They were just kind of like, [reluctantly] ‘Yeah, okay, but we’ll only do it because we’re your mate – we don’t really know what we’re doing.’”

Season 2, James hints, is close to confirmed. Considering its success, it’d be surprising if Red Bull pulled the pin. But then, back in North America, James isn’t immune to shocks of his own.

He took second place in Calgary, beaten by Japan’s Ruka Hirano – his first defeat time since his Olympic ‘disappointment’ – bronze! – at the Pyeongchang Games.

Afterwards, James sat in front of a roaring fire and explained.

 “Not discrediting Ruka at all – he rode absolutely amazing and delivered some pretty special stuff that night. He was the better man, and he beat me,” said James. “And I think I just went into that competition with not a great mentality. I was probably taking it for granted.”

Scotty James has always been polite, good-humoured and reasonable. Now, maybe, he’s properly motivated again.

Last time he dropped an event, Scotty James went on a winning run that lasted over two years. As of the date of his second placing at Calgary (which won him the overall title), the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics is just shy of 24 months away.

It’s a long wait. Infuriating.

Last time he dropped an event, Scotty James went on a winning run that lasted over two years