Golden Gate Express | The freewheeling city by the bay
For 38 years, David “D” Miles Jr. has ritually put on his roller skates to skate in the same spot in Golden Gate Park every Sunday.
“The roller skaters here represent the cool eccentricity that makes San Francisco hip and fun,” said Miles, a longtime skater.
Miles has been both a veteran skater and a prominent advocate for skating in San Francisco since 1979. He was one of the pioneering skaters in the transformation of 6th Avenue and John F. Kennedy Drive in the Golden Gate Park in “Skate Place”. Since 1984, this area has been a paradise for skaters of all skill levels and ages to dance and skate freely.
“So many flavors of roller skates coexist at the skate place,” said regular Rik Panganiban. “There are people who have been doing this for decades, and people who have just made their first pitch.”
Many skaters at Golden Gate Park’s Skate Place also frequent San Francisco’s iconic Church of 8 Wheels, another venue run by Miles and his family.
Located at 554 Fillmore St., the Church of the 8 Wheels was once an abandoned Catholic church until Miles received a message regarding the space from a friend. In November 2013, Miles hosted a one-night roller disco party there courtesy of the owner. After attracting a solid crowd of skaters, Miles managed to convert the space, with a bit of perseverance, into a funky-neon roller disco, while retaining all of the church’s original religious regalia.
“I truly believe that San Francisco is the only place where you can have a wheelie disco inside a church,” said Daniel Albert, one of the church’s original team members. . “This city has always been at the forefront of new thinking and creativity.”
Albert currently works as a DJ at the Church of 8 Wheels. He started skating about 10 years ago after a friend insisted he take up skating for fun. He first met Miles when he started skating with a group called the Friday Night Skaters.
Known for zipping through city streets with neon lights and blaring disco music, the Friday Night Skaters began in October after the 1989 earthquake when Miles and friends spontaneously skated down the closed Embarcadero Freeway. .
“Imagine having the whole highway to skate on; it was beautiful,” Miles said. “We eventually mapped out a route around town and haven’t stopped since.”
Once the church opened, Miles became increasingly busy with other skate-related events and was unable to lead Friday night skaters full-time. In 2012, Lainie Monsef, a Friday night skater since 1991, took the reins and continued the tradition of group night skating in San Francisco.
Since 1989, the Friday Night Skaters have been gathering every week to skate the streets of San Francisco. Skaters meet at the Embarcadero Plaza around 9 p.m. and skate through the docks to the Palace of Fine Arts, where they stop to dance and perform tricks under the dome. From there, they head to Union Square in downtown San Francisco where they host a “Cupid Shuffle” band inviting onlookers to join.
In the past, police have issued citations and even arrested a skater while skating at night. These days, Monsef says SFPD attitudes have changed toward skaters because they follow most of the rules. On a few occasions, police officers even saw skaters jumping down the stairs of the Powell station escalator.
“It’s such a sight to see everyone enjoying watching us skate,” Monsef said. “It’s freedom, it’s fun and we welcome everyone.”
Monsef, Miles and Albert are all longtime residents of San Francisco and all agree the city has undergone drastic changes amid rising rent prices.
“I felt like the city changed overnight during the tech boom,” said Monsef, who has resided in San Francisco since the ’70s. “If it weren’t for the skate community and the joy it brings me, I wouldn’t even know how I feel about the city.”
Miles moved to San Francisco in 1979 and said the bayside city had lost much of its original soul. Miles said the skate community has always been a home for everyone, especially in the 80s and 90s when many of the park’s original skaters lived in various group homes.
“Part of the soul of the city is gone because people can’t afford to live here,” Miles said. “The skaters represent the original energy of the city because we all live in the moment and connect. Without skating, life is boring and simple and it’s not San Francisco.