The freewheelin’ city by the bay
An exploration of San Francisco’s eclectic roller skating community
May 11, 2022
For 38 years, David “D” Miles Jr. ritually laces up his roller skates to skate the same spot in Golden Gate Park every Sunday.
“The roller skaters here represent the cool quirkiness that makes San Francisco hip and fun,” said Miles, a long-time skater.
Miles is both a veteran skater and a prominent advocate for skating in San Francisco since 1979. He was one of the skaters at the forefront of making 6th Avenue and John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park the designated “Skate Place”. Since 1984, this area has been a haven for skaters of all skill levels and ages to dance and skate freely.
“So many flavors of roller skating coexist at the skate place,” said regular Rik Panganiban. “There are folks who have been doing this for decades, and folks who are just taking their first roll.”
Many skaters at the Skate Place in Golden Gate Park 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 8 Wheels was once an abandoned Catholic church until Miles received word about the space from a friend. In November 2013, Miles held a one- night roller disco party there with the permission of the owner. After drawing a solid crowd of skaters, Miles was able to convert the space, with a little persistence, into a funky-neon roller disco, while keeping all the original religious regalia of the church.
“I truly believe that San Francisco is the only place where you can have a roller disco inside of 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 began skating about 10 years ago after a friend kept insisting that he should pick up skating for fun. He first met Miles when he started skating with a group called the Friday Night Skaters.
Known for blazing through the streets of the city with neon lights and loud disco music, the Friday Night Skaters began in October after the 1989 earthquake when Miles and friends spontaneously skated the closed-off Embarcadero freeway.
“Imagine having the whole freeway to yourself to skate; it was beautiful,” Miles said. “We eventually established a route around the city and haven’t stopped since.”
Once the Church opened, Miles became increasingly more busy with other skate-related events and wasn’t able to lead the Friday Night Skaters full time. In 2012, Lainie Monsef, a Friday Night Skater since 1991, took the reins and kept the tradition of San Francisco’s group night skating rolling onward.
Since 1989, the Friday Night Skaters have met every week to skate the streets of San Francisco. The skaters meet at the Embarcadero Plaza around 9 p.m. and skate through the piers to the Palace of Fine Arts, where they stop to dance and do tricks under the dome. From there they make their way to Union Square in Downtown San Francisco where they organize a group “Cupid Shuffle” inviting spectators to join.
In the past, police have issued citations and even arrested a skater during their night skate. Nowadays, Monsef says the SFPD’s attitudes have changed towards the skaters because they follow most of the rules. On a few occasions, police officers have even been known to spectate skaters jumping down the Powell Station escalator stairs.
“It’s such a sight to see everyone loves watching us skate by,” Monsef said. “It’s freedom, it’s fun and we welcome everybody.”
Monsef, Miles and Albert are all long-time residents of San Francisco and all agree that the city has undergone drastic changes amid rising rent prices.
“I felt like I watched the city change overnight during the tech boom,” said Monsef who’s been a resident of San Francisco since the 70’s. “If it wasn’t for the skate community and the joy that it brings me I wouldn’t even know how to feel about the city.”
Miles moved to San Francisco in 1979 and said the city by the bay has lost a lot of its original soul. Miles said the skate community has always been a home for everyone, especially back in the 80’s and 90’s when many of the original skaters in the park were living in various group homes.
“Some of the soul of the city has left because people can’t afford to live here,” Miles said. “The skaters represent the original energy of the city because we’re all living in the moment and connecting. Without skating life is boring and cookie-cutter and that is not San Francisco.”