Staff Photo: John Bohn Sam White, owner of Tire Omni in Suwanee, is a serious hobbyist. White rides a unicycle as well as builds and flies radio controlled model airplanes. White keeps his unicycle at work, as many customers enjoy a demonstration of his riding skills.
SUWANEE -- A hobby that Sam White began doing at age 10, and has taken him to parades and even caused him to be a clue in a scavenger hunt, is something he hopes to do for many years.
Almost every day of the week, and when he needs to unwind from work, White hops on a unicycle and pedals around his neighborhood.
"I've heard all kinds of comments over the years. They're all good," he said. "A lot of them realize it takes a lot of practice. It's not something that you just put on a shoe and do. You have to have the skill set."
Especially when he was a youngster, White rode the unicycle everywhere. One of his childhood friends, Jeff Fish, was the person that introduced White to the unicycle. Fish said they played hockey, basketball and tag -- all on unicycles.
"We were just inseparable," Fish said. "It was a fun thing, and we still do it."
Some 40 years later, White still rides a unicycle, and often gets requests from customers at the business he owns and runs, Tire Omni, in Suwanee. Over the years, White rode a unicycle in the Suwanee Day parade, a Buford Christmas parade and college homecoming parades. White even had a woman ask to take a picture with him for a corporate scavenger hunt after she found him on a Google search.
"There's not that many people that ride unicycles," White said. "It's one of those unique (things), not everybody can ride one. You have to really want to ride, and practice a lot. It's not something that comes natural. You've got to be in better shape, the more you ride, the better shape you're in. It works a lot of little muscles."
White said learning to ride a unicycle is a long progression. As youngsters, White and his friends learned to ride to the end of their driveways, then pedaled to a church playground, and eventually could turn both ways and pedal backwards.
"We had a lot of wrecks, we crashed a lot," he said. "Of course then, you don't mind the skins."
Fish said they also figured out how to ride with one foot.
"There are so many things you can do," he said. "We had no idea of."
Unicycles aren't White's only hobby. The Doraville native also flies model airplanes, and owns 14 of them. As a child, White and his father flew u-controlled planes behind the General Motors building in Doraville.
But six or seven years ago, he took an added interest in building and flying planes, and introduced his youngest daughter to the hobby.
"It's a hobby you can do all the time," White said. "When it's rainy weather, you're building, when it's sunny you're flying. You're always puttering about it thinking of a new way to build a plane."
White is involved in the Georgia Model Aviators, which use an 80-acre field off of Federal Road in Ball Ground.
He said the members range from all walks of life, professionals to laborers, and many spend family time flying planes.
A visit to the field would reveal many types of planes, and the most expensive are several thousands of dollars.
White's fleet includes planes that have wingspans that are 12 inches, 20 inches and 84 inches.
But there's one common denominator among aviators.
"No matter what, you're going to crash," he said.
Jerry Smith is in the Hall of Fame of the Academy of Model Aeronautics, and he's also involved with the Georgia Model Aviators. Smith said he was impressed with White's ability to fly.
"He seems to be able to pick it up more quickly than I see other people," Smith said.
White flies electric planes, which feature newer and simpler technology, and don't have the fuel smell of gasoline engines. Technology has also improved, White said, and some batteries that cost $400 five or six years ago are now $60.
White's been a part of the Suwanee community as a business owner for 24 years. He said the business has rode economic waves, as Tire Omni started with two employees, grew to nine and now has five.
"In our own little way, we've helped Suwanee grow a little bit," White said. "Provided a little jobs here, and helped the city grow some, I like to think we have. We've had a lot of good customers, families, a lot of good friends."
And when he needs to get his mind off work, since both require a lot of focus, he hops on a unicycle or flies a plane.
After more than 40 years, White said riding a unicycle is still "tons of fun."