March 8, 2004

Rolling Through Time In Golden Gate Park

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                              BY ETHAN FLETCHER

                                 Examiner Staff Writer

The "Godfather" of San Francisco roller skating, David Miles, recalled the first time he witnessed the skating scene at Golden Gate Park 25 years ago.

"I was like; Oh my God, I can't believe this, everybody was skating around," he said. "You know, I'm from Kansas City, we shoot people who are doing that."

In 1979 Miles was stepped off a Greyhound bus from Missouri. After a couple of days in the Tenderloin, Miles visited Golden Gate Park and promptly fell in love with The City's skating scene. As many as 20,000 people skated in the park on any given weekend during the roller skating heydays of the late 1970's.

Fads have come and go, but roller skating has managed to survive, in no small part because of Miles. He has weathered the peaks and valleys in the popularity of roller skating and helped hold together the tight-knit community.

Various people wandered up to thank and congratulate Miles or to simply seek advise on roller skating matters. Miles organized countless events including weekly Midnight Rollers Friday night skates along the Embarcadero, and even produced a cable access show called "Skatin' Place Live," which won awards in the late 1990s. He is coordinator for the Golden Gate Park Skate Patrol and president of the California Outdoor Rollerskating Association. Miles has also been a driving force in political battles trying to close off Golden Gate Park to traffic on Saturdays, and making The City's streets more accessible to skaters.

One member of the eclectic skating community, 42-year-old San Francisco native Elliott Johnson, discovered the scene around the same time as Miles. Sporting a flowing red bandanna with a red headband and red leg warmers over red skates, he described what he loves about the sport. "To come out here and to skate with the other people, to learn, to see other things...and to see so many people expressing themselves in their own way, it's a wonderful feeling," he said.

Terrance Smith, a 46-year old native San Franciscan sporting Elvis shades and slicked back hair, also waxed eloquent about roller skating's disco and hiphop history, while he acknowledged Miles' importance in The City's skating community.

Miles tried to explain the essence of the scene that has come to dominate his everyday life, and why it has lasted. "It's not exactly just skating, it has a lot to do with the community of skaters," he said. "There's very few things where all you got to do is show up and you belong to a group of people that are fun, and just have no weight on you." "You don't have to dress a certain way, act a certain way, be a certain color, it don't matter," Miles added. "The music is universal, the dancing. It's just sort of an accident, like most things that are successful."

With his eight-wheeled twirls and spins, Johnson took the time to write a poem for the "Godfather" in a 25th anniversary photo album present for Miles that was making the rounds among the die-hard skaters. The last verse read, "And though it's not enough, thank you is all we can say, as the sun sets down on us, each and every Sunday."