Skate Nights Are Wheely Fun
With a history going back decades, roller skating and its various gay nights continue to offer up fun on wheels, both in Redwood City and at a church on Fillmore Street. Both locations bring lighthearted nightlife with an innocent sense of fun.
Although its designated "gay night" is on Tuesdays, David Miles, Jr., also known as "the Godfather of Skating," assured me that any of the several weekly nights, and even a new daytime slot, are more than gay-friendly.
On last Saturday’s Black Rock roller disco night, several mostly straight participants donned festive Burning Man styles, including retro shorts and socks, fake fur and LED hats, as ’70s funk and disco pumped through his installed speakers at the former Sacred Heart Church on 554 Fillmore Street at Fell. As stained glass window depictions of Jesus and Mary looked down, attendees whirled in circles, with a few gravitational mishaps.
Miles Jr.’s love of roller skating goes back to 1979, when he made a visit to Golden Gate Park.
"I heard about people skating in the park, bought a pair of skates," he said. "In the beginning, we used to hang out on the bridge in between 9th and 10th avenues. We started a skate patrol, because they were gonna ban skating in the park. We were doing that up until 1996."
Currently, of course, skating and rollerblading remain popular -and allowed- in the park and other areas. Miles Jr. prefers to keep the events simple.
"You don’t see food trucks or sales banner there," he said of his outdoor events. "I’ve worked hard to keep it simple, but the world wants you to promote yourself."
And that he does, but modestly, with his website and, for a time, his own local cable access TV show.
When Sacred Heart Church was closed, the building remained dormant for a time, until Miles Jr. found a way to re-open it for fun in November 2013. But it wasn’t without a bit of controversy.
"Some people from the church felt like they got ripped off," he said of the closure.
After all, Miles Jr. noted, roller skating is a form of celebrating life, "which is what religion is supposed to be about."
And Miles, Jr. has been spreading the gospel for years, with events at The Women’s Building (in association with IndieFest), at the former Cell Space in SoMa, and with rolling outdoor events that preceded the birth of the cycling event Critical Mass.
"What was really weird, at Sixth Avenue and Kennedy Drive, we were calling that the Church on Eight Wheels for years," he said. "Now, look what’s dropped into our laps; an actual church!"
Miles, Jr. did propose a conundrum. "I’m a bit perpelexed by a ’gay night,’" he said. "What’s gay music?"
Mention of a few pop music divas, and perhaps a song or two from the score of "The Rink" aside, his playlist of classic funk and disco seem festive enough.
"My family has been so way past the uptightness since I came to San Francisco from Kansas City," said the 58-year-old father of three children, who even met his wife 35 years ago at a skating event.
"My skate scene has basically been the same from the 1970s to this day. I’ve been going to Burning Man for 14 years," where he’s packed a small skating floor and music. "It’s something that has pushed my whole skating experience. I’ve never been involved in anything so inclusive. But having a gay night is, I guess, a way to say anybody can come to our events."
Since the Church on 8 Wheels events aren’t held in a nightclub, they have to skirt a few concerns. Without a costly DJ license, a playlist is set on computers and iPods. Alcohol is not allowed, but private parties allow a little BYOB and food, just no glass bottles.
Attendees do need reminders, as Miles, Jr. announced on a recent night, "Do not hold a can or anything in your hand, If you do, you will fall down."
And people do fall down, so a general ’At your Own Risk’ policy prevails, as do a few participants’ fashionable and functional knee pads, and even a few helmets.
"You don’t want to be drunk or stoned while skating," Miles Jr. said. "The Women’s Building events have a full bar, but you have a different crowd there."
Attendees needn’t be daunted by the more proficient skaters, since beginners are encouraged with lessons.
"We’re not trying to be great skaters, just plug in to the grooves," said Miles, Jr.
As a founder of the California Outdoor Rollerskating Association, he’s been promoting skating events of all kinds, including organized cross-state events. Miles Jr. is actively working toward saving venues and converting old ice rinks into roller rinks, as he did in Santa Barbara.
The Church on 8 Wheels has a two-year agreement to use the space. That may be extended, but Miles, Jr. isn’t daunted by change, as his fans and friends continue to keep rolling.
His biggest recent events have been held in an airplane hangar at The Presidio, and a Target-sponsored 17-day event at the Alameda Country Fair.
"We’re mobile anyway," said Miles, Jr., whose LED-lit mini-van, a signpost of his events, was parked outside the church’s entry. "We can move anywhere. This is the way we can bring skating to anyone."
Leather night at Redwood Roller Rink’s Rainbow Skate in May 2013. Photo: Rich Stadtmiller