Scotty James didn’t grow up with Chris Judd’s Puma King football boots on his feet. And he didn’t wield Ricky Ponting’s Kookaburra cricket bat in the backyard. He always wore the Oakley goggles made cool by American snowboarder Danny Kass.
That’s why the three-time world champion and Olympic bronze medallist was so thrilled when the Californian eyewear and sports performance giant tapped him on the shoulder.
For a boy from Warrandyte in Melbourne’s outer-east, it was a moment that brought into focus just how far he has come since he started competing overseas at the age of 13.
“Oakley have always done signature goggles with their pro riders. Growing up you always had that level up where there were guys goggles that I wanted to wear. I never thought that I would get that opportunity,” James told Man of Style ahead of the release of the Oakley Scott James signature Line Miner goggles.
“I guess through what’s been happening over the years with the competitions and all the experiences, Oakley came to me and said, ‘we’d love you to make your first signature goggle’, which was a bit of a pinch me moment because it was something that I never thought I’d get.
“The way I perceive it, they are giving me the opportunity to do it because I’ve earnt it. I feel like you have to earn a signature product, so that was the coolest part for me.”
Just like almost all interviews in 2020, this one is executed over Zoom, although James isn’t doing it from Melbourne or anywhere in Australia. The 26-year-old is sitting inside a lodge in Geneva, having made a last minute dash to Europe the day before the Victorian government imposed stage four restrictions.
It wasn’t an easy escape. James had to quarantine in Australia for 14 days before leaving the country to meet the entry requirements in Switzerland. But now he is on the other side of the world again, finally preparing for the 2020/21 season after spending months off the slopes living with the coronavirus pandemic.
“It has been a unique year that’s for sure. I haven’t been able to do my job and my sport which has been something I’ve had to manage. But then there’s the other side where I’ve got to spend a lot of time in Australia, which I haven’t in a very, very long time, which I was very grateful for,” he said.
“I felt like a lot of scenarios could have gone one of two ways: it could have been quite self-destructive and hard to manage; the way I dealt with it I learnt how to adapt to the new world and the pandemic and be thankful I was safe and in Australia, where I wanted to be.
“I think for me mentally through that phase, it was a little bit easier for me to manage because I knew that my competitors were in the same boat. It wasn’t like I was stuck and they were still able to continue training and competing – everyone in the world was in the same position, so I was able to mentally rest on that. I would have gone crazy if I knew that my competitors were getting a leg up on me.”
James didn’t have to look far to realise he is one of the lucky ones in the Australian sporting landscape this year. He lived next to Olympic gold medallist Mack Horton in South Melbourne during the first lockdown period. The 2016 400m freestyle champion didn’t get the chance to defend his title at the Tokyo Olympics earlier this year and couldn’t even get in the pool for months on end.
While he couldn’t get back on his snowboard, James spent time training at the Victorian Institute of Sport and worked out in his garage, on a treadmill and in a home gym he put together with barbells and plates.
The three-time Winter X Games SuperPipe champion isn’t one for reflection. He moves on from one goal to the next by the time he lands in the next country.
But this year has forced him to reflect on how far he has come in the past 12 years, from when he became Australia’s youngest male Olympian in 50 years when he was just 15 at the 2010 Vancouver Games, to claiming the Bronze Medal in Pyeongchang, South Korea in 2018.
“If there were ever a year to reflect, 2020 is the year. I’m not one to dwell on what’s happened in my life. There have been elements this year where I have sat back and tried to really take in the journey that I’ve had. It has been cool to reflect on,” he said.
“Everything that I’ve done since 13 has helped me get here. I have moments where things happen and I think back to when mum and I were travelling when I was 13.
“You forget when you’re on your toes and travelling in competition and training. I have reflected this year and I’m very grateful for the journey so far. I’m looking forward to what’s next.”
James will spend the rest of September in Geneva before heading to Saas-Fee in the Swiss Alps right near the Italian border, where he will train for a couple of months ahead of the start of the season in December.
Plenty has changed since the last time the Australian was competing on the world stage, including his eyewear. But one thing that hasn’t changed is his unrelenting ambition to the best in the business.