DAVID MILES JR - THE GODFATHER OF SKATE
The Godfather of Skating, the Pied Piper of Skating, the Mayor of Golden Gate Park, these are some of the accolades bestowed upon me by the people of San Francisco. For over 4 decades, I have been a staunch advocate for everything roller skating including dance, speed, slalom, marathon and more. I’ve led skate-a-thons from San Francisco to Los Angeles for many causes like the Skate Against Hate, the Skate Against Violence, the Skate Against Hunger and more. I’ve donated skates to skaters in Kenya. I’ve built mobile roller rinks for events like Burning Man with 70,000+ attendees and the Electric Daisy Carnival with 500,000+ attendees. I’ve skated with Mayors, negotiated with Governors, even recognized by a President. I have been involved with ballot initiatives and passing skate legislation to make roller skating legal in San Francisco and throughout California. All of this I do because I love roller skating.
Some of my skate events have spread around the world. The San Francisco Friday Night Skate has seen thousands of inline skaters hitting the streets throughout the US and in England, Paris Amsterdam, Frankfurt, South Africa and other cities. I have developed a very vibrant and successful skate community at 6th Ave. Skatin’ Place in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and I own my own roller rink, the Church of 8 Wheels. This is a 130 year old Catholic Church I’ve turned into one of the world’s most unique roller skating venues.
What’s my skate style? I really don’t have a style. I do what I want when the music hits me. I can do line dancing, but I rarely do. I’m not much of a follower. I don’t like my skating to depend on what others do. I have my own favorite moves that work rollin’ in the fast lane and then sometimes I roll into the center and do my “Hat Spin” or quarter/half rubber leg moves. It depends on the beat. It really works for me when there is a funky groove. The funky good time is released like the Kracken.
When I tell you that I am passionate about roller skating, this is NOT an exaggeration. Skating is truly my life. It began with the creation of the Golden Gate Park Skate Patrol in 1979. I went roller skating as a kid in Kansas City. Rhythm Lane was the place where everybody would get their skate groove on. My cousin Lonnie and her boyfriend Bert were the King and Queen of the rink. I was just the little cousin going too fast and making people fall. (not on purpose!!!) I liked skating, but there was no real passion for it then. It wasn’t until I came to San Francisco and went to Golden Gate Park did the spark for my passion light up.
I had been in San Francisco for 3 days. I didn’t know anyone, so I went out to Golden Gate Park just to walk around and see what was up. It was a beautiful, sunny day. I saw four people come rolling by on roller skates. I almost couldn’t believe it’ I had never seen people skating like this outdoors in a park. I went up to them and we talked. They told me that on Sundays the cars were closed off and thousands of roller skaters come out and skate all day.
I rushed out and bought me a pair of blue and yellow Sure Grip Jogger roller skaters just like the ones O.J. Simpson had in the ad photo. Rolling out onto JFK Drive was like a scene in the Wizard I of Oz when the tornado dropped Dorothy’s house and she steps out from the black and white into the full color of Oz!!! There were thousands of skaters going nowhere in particular but going everywhere. I had never skated so much and so far in my life!!! I began skating almost every day. I met some others that were just as excited about skating as I was. We would meet every day at about 3PM to skate in the Bandshell in the park. Every Sunday would see more and more skaters. it was the absolute funky good time every day.
About 3 months later there was talk of banning roller skating in Golden Gate Park. The same thing was happening all across the country. There were media estimates of 25,000 skaters described as “swarming Golden Gate Park” every Sunday. People in vans containing hundreds of skates to rent were lined up along Fulton St. and Lincoln Way, the streets that border the park. Our daily skate spot at the Bandshell was also under attack as the park institutions, the DeYoung Museum, the California Arts and Science Building, the Asian Arts Museum and the Japanese Tea Gardens all wanted get all the roller skaters out of there forever. They would see us with boom boxes and jumping off the stairs doing all the kinds of things young people do and thought of as the riff raff damaging the facility.
One day a great friend that still skates with us to this day, JC, gave me a set of Kryptonics C60 skate wheels. JC was part of the Pepsi Skate Team. I was so excited because my hard plastic yellow wheels were so rough you could lose the fillings in your teeth while skating down the street. I grabbed my skate tool and began changing my wheels when a guy with a clipboard tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I wanted to be on the Roller Patrol. He told me that the only way to keep roller skating from being banned in Golden Gate Park is if there were a group of volunteers that could help keep the situation safe and on JFK Drive. He explained a lot more, but I kinda didn’t hear it all, except for the part where the Roller Patrol skaters would be allowed to go to all the restricted area including the Bandshell. I really wanted to get these wheels on, so I said yes just to get him to stop bugging me.
I told all my skate friends about the Roller Patrol and many of them had been approached as well. All of us joined. On July 15, the group got together for a meeting . They drafted me to be in charge. I have a military background, so I broke down the skaters, about 60 in the group, into 5 teams. 4 teams would station themselves around the four designated “No Skating” areas in the park. The 5th team was to deal with the hardheads, hoodlums gang bangers and thieves. There was fighting, crime, injuries, everything that happens when thousands of people gather. I had everyone trained in first aid and certified in CPR. We changed the name of the group from the Roller Patrol to the Golden Gate Park Skate Patrol. We got sponsorship from the Rector Corporation, got bright red and gold uniforms and by the end of that summer the SF Recreation declared that the success of the Skate Patrol had been the deciding factor to keep roller skating alive Golden Gate Park.
At this point I felt on top of the world. My roller skating world was in the papers and on the news. People respected what I was doing. Right when I think things could never be better, I met my wife, Rose who would be with me for the next 42 years!!! All Skate Patrol people help the beginners to get started skating right and I wasn’t going to let Rose get by without at least teaching her something, ANYTHING!!! I had my super cool Skate Patrol uniform. I did all kinds of tricks and dance moves to impress her. She stands today as the rock that is the real reason I have had any of the success I have had in roller skating. She knew that marrying me was to be married to roller skating and that she would be the real power behind the man.
At this point, the Golden Gate Park Skate Patrol was the authority on roller skating to the SF Rec and Parks, the SF Police Dept. and the City of San Francisco. I have always thought of this as a high honor for roller skating and a huge responsibility. I began putting together events that showcase roller skating in all its forms. I began organizing fundraising events like the Muscular Dystrophy Skate- thon. I even organized the first skate-a-thon from San Francisco to Los Angeles in the Skate Against World Hunger in 1980. If there was any doubt about what my future path would be, it was gone long ago. Skating would be my life!!! But can a person earn a living roller skating? I had really never given that any thought. I was just having a funky good time every Sunday and I never wanted it to stop.
I have always felt that when the road is closed to cars, it creates a recreational paradise for everyone, especially roller skaters. By 1984, I began working on an effort extend the closing Golden Gate Park to cars to Saturdays. At the same time the SF Rec and Parks Dept. wanted to close off unnecessary streets to reduce the car traffic in the park. 6th Ave. was one of the streets designated to be removed. The plan was to replace the asphalt with grass. When I heard of this, I met with the park planner, Deborah Lerner and convinced her that roller skating needed a permanent place in Golden Gate Park just like the baseball fields, tennis courts and other forms of recreation provided for in the park. She agreed. The Rec and Parks Dept agreed. The Mayor agreed. 6th Ave. was closed off to all traffic. The City came in and relandscaped the area. They removed some of the asphalt, but they made the area look as if it was always a roller rink. It now stands today as a great example of how roller skating should be embraced and included in the recreational mix in every City.
As I roll on through the next few years, I was successful and getting Golden Gate Park closed to car traffic on all holidays. I was even able to get an extension of the time the park was closed on Sundays to make up for Daylight Savings Time. Any time I would see an opportunity to do anything that would build roller skating or be positive for roller skating I took it. Parades with roller skaters, Civic events with roller skaters, news stories about skaters, if they let us in everyone would have fun. We carried the vibe. That vibe of happy excitement that just seems to happen when people see the roller skaters doing their thang. However there was a problem. All this roller skating stuff was great, but by now Rose and I had a baby with another on the way. I had never actually thought of how a person could earn a living roller skating like I had been doing. Sure I could make a little money through doing events and all, but those were designed to break even or raise funds for a nonprofit, not really make a profit. Soon we both lost our jobs. I had to make a decision.
(yes, back in the 80’s I had a real job. O k, Let’s be real!!! I didn’t see a future working at H Salt Fish and Chips anyway)
I will always remember the day I became a full time roller skater. Rose and I had been out of work for about 3 weeks. I was a bricklayer by trade, but I hadn’t been a bricklayer for years. I thought this was a chance, but I went to Rose and told her that I think I can make a living skating. It won’t be the greatest life, but it will be honest and I think I can support us. She looked at me and told me to go for it. She has faith in me. She’ll have my back all the way no matter what. I went to UC Berkeley and took the Sports Management and Lifestyle Marketing course while doing roller skating lessons in the park. We lived across the street from the skate area so commuting was a breeze!!! I created the California Outdoor Roller Skating Championships that featured 100m, 300m and 500m sprint races along a 4.2 mile Park Race. The competitions also had events in the High Jump, Long Jump, Downhill Slalom. These were two day events with the highlight being the California Outdoor Freestyle Roller Skating Championships the next day.
In the 1990’s the success story continues. Rollerblades have replaced roller skates as roller skating is always in a state of evolution. I began branching out in my events. We created the California Championship Series. This was a series of events that were held in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. The champions return to San Francisco for the California State Championships. I want to show that inline skating was the closest thing to Olympic Ice Skating. I wanted to get the RSROA or now USA Roller Sports to open up to outdoor speedskating. This entire effort deserves it’s own chapter or even book, but let’s just say they didn’t or couldn’t adapt as they have their own rules, organization and infrastructure that doesn’t work well with change.
Sooooooooo what does one do? I just keep pushing. I never look back. I began putting on the kind of races very few people even attempt. I took speed skating to the Napa Valley. I transformed the Silverado Trail into one of the greatest road skating courses in the world. As the only African American to ever approach the Napa County Board of Supervisors and the California Highway Patrol, the City of Yountville, the City of Calistoga and the Napa County Fairgrounds for permission for this kind of event, I had to go where no man has gone before – AND WIN!!! Think about it. They allowed me to close of the main artery to some of the greatest wineries in the world to roller skate!!! I produced that event every year for 23 years.
All through my skating life, having a funky good time is paramount!!! In 1989 we had a bad earthquake in San Francisco that shut down the Embarcadero Freeway. After a lengthy Skate Patrol meeting, we all went skating at night though downtown San Francisco. We saw the “DO NOT ENTER” signs on the freeway entrance. No one was around, so we went through. Skating on an elevated freeway with no cars on it was a once in a lifetime opportunity for roller skating!!! We began doing this every Friday night. A few years later the freeway was torn down, but by then lots of skaters were showing up and we had an entire 12 mile route established. We called it the Midnight Rollers Friday Night Skate. It’s free, fun, inclusive and the most fun you can have with your clothes on. We were rolling through the streets at night in San Francisco with 800+ skaters. A normal event weekend is now come to San Francisco for the Friday Night Skate on Friday and then do the Napa race on Sunday. Back then we were doing the Napa Race 4 times a year.
This created a national and even worldwide trend. Skaters were doing night skates in Detroit, LA, New York, Amsterdam England with the biggest group of 35,000 skaters in Paris.
Also during this same time I connected with the company Red Bull to help produce the Red Bull Great Skate. This was a freestyle roller skating championship series that went to 11 cities in the U.S. including San Francisco, Venice Beach, Ca. and Las Vegas, Nv. You don’t get to be a member of the Miles family and not be a great roller skater. My daughter Melanie was the first Red Bull National Champion at the age of 12. My younger daughter Tiffany beat Melanie in the second year of the series by only one point. My son David won 7th overall in the men’s freestyle at the age of 9. As a family we won second nationally in the group category as are group name performing is “Generation Gap”.
As the millennium came I found myself still looking for opportunities to further promote skating to more and more people. Some friends of mine came up to me as I was rocking in New Years Eve with a skate event on the Embarcadero. They had been trying to get me to go to Burning Man. I thought it was more of a hippy thang out in the desert and all that. I wasn’t interested. But when they came up to me and told me they had a roller rink there, I decided to go check it out. An outdoor roller rink that never closes in the middle of the desert? How could I pass that up? Discovering Burning Man was almost like discovering roller skating back in 1979. It shares a very similar feeling to what I experienced when I first started skating in San Francisco. My second year there my friends were talking of burning up the roller rink and not having it there anymore. I said to them Wait!!! Just hold up for a minute!!! I’ll take it over and keep it going.
That was 20 years ago. The Black Rock Roller Disco is one of the most popular theme camps at Burning Man. We’re an award winning camp. We roller skate 24/7. We have roller derby games on Thursday night. We build a mobile roller rink floor 100ft x 50ft. Of course I can’t hog all the fun as the family is just as involved. My son David helps build the camp and DJ’s. My daughter organizes the work crew that man the camp operations.
As we sit today I am one of about 20 African Americans that owns a roller rink in the U.S. It’s not actually a roller rink. It is a 140 year old Catholic Church that I have transformed into the Church of 8 Wheels, San Francisco’s Roller Disco. In 2013 I had been producing roller disco events in any place that would allow me to do it. We did Tuesday nights at The Cellspace. We did once a month events at the Womens Building and Saturday nights at Redwood Roller Rink. A good friend told me he knew a guy that had this empty church in the middle of the city and he might let me have a skate party there. I met the building owner and convinced him to let me have a one night party there. The place was a mess. There was no running water or bathrooms. But I didn’t care. I got with my skaters. We cleaned it up. We brought in portable toilets and brought in water water. We had a party and of course we had a funky good time.
The owner came by to make sure we weren’t destroying the place. As soon as he walked in the door, he caught the vibe. He saw all the people having fun. He was really impressed. He told me he had no idea it would be like this. I thought this was the best time to ask, “Can we do this once a week”? His response was, “Let’s try it and see what happens”. That was 7 years ago. Today the Church of 8 Wheels is one of San Francisco’s most popular night spots. We’re open to the public 4 days a week with private parties nearly all the other days. We’ve won awards as Best of the Bay in the SF Chronicle, San Francisco Magazine and a host of other media outlets. It is my pulpit from which I spread rolligion each and every day.
Looking back at my body of skating work, I’m very proud of what I have been able to accomplish. My skating experiences covers a wide range of the different forms of the sport. Not just the roller rink, not just indoors, not just the cool kids. My skating world is open to all that want to skate and all that want to have a funky good time. I often think of what Rose said when she agreed to let me skate for a living. “Choose a job that you love, and you’ll never “work” a day in your life”. I thought it was Rose, but it was Confucius. Rose is Chinese so maybe she was thinking this all along!!!