Many on Occidental’s campus may have witnessed one particular student juggling to his heart’s content and unicycling through the Quad. Ian Convy, a first-year who hails from Kingston, Washington, spends his free time honing his circus skills, much to the amazement of other students.
“I realized [juggling] is a good way to waste some time, a good thing to put some passion into, and it just kind of went from there,” Convy said.
Convy began developing his circus skills after he discovered a YouTube video about juggling in eighth grade. He started with juggling and added unicycling to his repertoire his sophomore year of high school as a result of his growing interest in circus skills.
When Convy realized that he could use his unicycles as a practical mode of transportation, he upgraded to a larger wheel, which Occidental community members might see him riding around campus. This unicycle has a diameter of 36 inches, compared to the 20- or 24-inch diameter of standard beginner unicycles. He says that this unicycle costs roughly $650, which he considers comparable to a decent bicycle.
Convy cited both the enjoyment factor and the physical maneuverability of the vehicle as why he prefers unicycles to bicycles.
“With a bike … you’re riding it. With a unicycle, it feels more like an extension of yourself,” Convy said. “It’s much more responsive to small movements your body makes than a bike is.”
When he’s not using his unicycles for transportation, Convy participates in ultimate wheeling, which involves riding on a 28-inch wheel with no seat. With this unicycle, Convy can explore tricks that would not be possible with his other ones.
Tricks that Convy has tried include spin mounts, which involve rotating an ultimate wheel as the rider jumps onto it; rolling mounts, where the rider mounts the ultimate wheel while it is in motion; and hopping tricks. Convy spends about an hour and a half every other day practicing.
By design, unicycles are relatively minimalistic, consisting of a wheel, a seat and pedals. Convy’s larger one also has handlebars, which provide its rider with additional support. Despite the fact that Convy’s unicycles are not equipped with conventional brakes, he is able to ride downhill by offering resistance to gravity’s pull.
“You can kind of force your legs to go slower, against the will of gravity,” Convy said. “It’s a weird thing, but you can do it. You just lean back and you kind of fight the hill.”
Despite being an avid unicyclist, juggling is where Convy is better able to explore the complex, artistic element of his hobbies. He feels that juggling has more creative potential than unicycling, offering what he describes as an infinite number of combinations.
While many would be keen on juggling as many balls as possible, Convy prefers to focus on mastering the variety of juggling patterns that require fewer balls.
“People haven’t explored [juggling] as much. People like the big numbers,” Convy said. “But I like kind of exploring what you can do with three and four balls—a smaller number of balls and cooler different kinds of arrangements.”
Convy took his love of juggling online with The Library of Juggling, a website he created his sophomore year of high school featuring dozens of online tutorials. According to its homepage, The Library of Juggling is “an attempt to list all of the popular (and perhaps not so popular) juggling tricks in one organized place.” Convy still updates the site, which has received over half a million hits.
Despite Convy’s interest in tricks, he feels that juggling and unicycling are more than mere circus novelties.
“They think, ‘Oh, clowns do that, they ride around, they throw some balls in the air,'” Convy said. “They don’t give people the respect that they’d probably deserve, given what they’ve often put into it.”
Michael Zucker (first-year), one of Convy’s roommates, was initially taken aback by Convy’s hobbies but has since grown accustomed to Convy’s unconventional pastimes. Other students have observed how devoted Convy is to his hobby as well.
“I know he’s always behind Newcomb practicing and working on his stuff,” Newcomb resident Jackson Goode (first-year) said.
Although Convy has stated that he would be interested in creating a club if there were a few willing participants, he has not encountered many who share his interests offline. Despite this lack of interest, Convy is well aware that many are intrigued by his hobbies. He takes the curiosity in stride.
“Occasionally you’ll hear comments like, ‘Hey, are you part of the circus?’ Which, you know, gets old, but it’s just good fun,” Convy said. “Most people are kind of just like, ‘Wow! That’s really cool.'”
Zucker, who has witnessed this first-hand, discusses Convy’s unicycling with a touch of amusement.
“I always enjoy a chuckle when I see him ride by, especially when I witness reactions by people who are seeing this for the first time,” Zucker said.