Ethan Gamble leans far back — teetering nearly 8 feet above the ground, he narrowly avoids the ceiling as he rides his neon green giraffe unicycle through Weimer Hall’s breezeway.
Pedestrians freeze, faces turn and conversations falter when the 17-year-old Gainesville High School senior approaches. Gamble gallivants through campus on his unicycle, sometimes donning eccentric frog and alien costumes, simply because it’s fun, he said.
“Just havin’ a really busy, stressful day and I just see live-action Pepe just, ya know, scootin’ around,” 18-year-old UF political science sophomore Sarisha Boodoo said after Gamble rode past her.
Gamble started unicycling about two years ago when he found a standard unicycle in his friend’s garage originally belonging to her brother, he said. His parents gave him his first unicycle that Christmas.
“Once I got my unicycle, I just kinda went outside that day. At first, I started just holding onto the wall at my house and trying to go for it, but I couldn’t get much grip,” Gamble said.
After school, Gamble tried learning at home. When he struggled to find grip support, he said he started visiting J. J. Finley Elementary School’s bus loop. He would use the chain-link fence around the perimeter for assistance until he could manage to let go and stay upright.
It took Gamble a couple of weeks to be able to freely mount and find comfort in maneuvering the unicycle, he said.
Gamble said there are other “trick” kinds of mounting, such as wrapping a leg around the front wheel before hopping on, which he discovered on YouTube but hasn’t attempted yet.
Friends and family weren’t surprised when Gamble picked up unicycling, he said. The prospective UF student has always had a quirky reputation. “He takes over the whole house. I love him to death, but,” Gamble’s mother, Odalis Manduley, 53, smiled and lowered her voice, “I can’t wait ‘til he moves out.”
Tanks and cages for his pet snakes, fish, bearded dragon, turtles, gecko and birds line an entire wall in his “animal room,” which also happens to be his bedroom, his brother, Gavin Gamble, said.
When asked to describe his younger brother, the 19-year-old UF aerospace engineering sophomore, cracked a smile.
“Oh man… He’s just a little circus animal. He just does weird things all the time,” he said.
The brothers sometimes ride around UF pranking students; the youngest on his unicycle wearing a green morph suit and alien glasses or a frog mask, referencing the “dat boi” meme, the oldest following on bicycle. The frog mask impairs Gamble’s vision, so his older brother helps him navigate. Onlookers often stare or laugh and attempt to stealthily record the boys, Gamble said.
“A lot of people are too afraid to say anything. They’ll just pull out their phone and very subtly record it and I’m just like, ‘Bruh, we’re trying to get looks. You don’t have to be slick about it,’” Gavin Gamble said.
Paul Schmidt, owner of Gainesville’s Bikes and More, recognized Gamble’s name immediately. Schmidt estimated he has sold six unicycles in his 13 years at the shop. Two of the six belong to Gamble, Schmidt said. Staff at the shop also recognized the name because Gamble’s father and grandfather are avid bicyclists.
Gainesville is following an “upswing” in bicycle sales seen nationwide in the last six years, Schmidt said. He attributes the increase to the economy’s recovery after the Great Recession and stricter bicycle policies from UF. However, unicycle sales remain rare and usually occur during Christmas time, Schmidt said.
“So he got the giraffe unicycle and we thought, ‘he’s gonna kill himself,’ but within a day he was riding it,” Manduley said.
Gamble knows his hobby is uncommon, but he simply likes unicycles more than bicycles, he said.
“Why one wheel?” Gamble said. “I don’t know. Why use two when you only need one?”