Hear that disco thump?   Longing for the days of four wheel glides? Dig out those old skates.  Your time has come.
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Old-fashioned four wheeled skates on a roll again

By Joshunda Sanders,
Chronicle Staff Writer

Skaters dressed as pimps and hippies sauntered in, ready for the costume contest at the first Black Rock Roller Disco. Suede fringe jackets, worn corduroys and glitzy sunglasses made for porn directors were attached to thirtysomething bodies, and yet the vibe was young. The whole thing was a symphony of mismatched events in motion: Halloween and Christmas and Burning Man on wheels.

The disco was also proof that after years of being sidelined by in-lines, roller skates are back in style across the country.

                                                         photo by Lacy Atkins, S.F. Chronicle
Eddy Uribe and Terry Smith do a little synchronized skating in
Golden Gate Park on four wheel skates, which are making a comeback
Four-wheel skates, also known as "quads" or conventional skates by the pros, have been gaining popularity since Britney Spears promoted a line of them for Skechers two years ago. Popular artists like Pink and Missy Elliott have worn them in recent music videos, too. But the resurgence of interest in vintage skates, experts say, springs mostly from nostalgia.

The silly Fisher-Price attachments you used to buckle over your shoes, the time your skate hit a rock and you fell on your fanny in front of your junior high school crush -- roller skates are all about the good ol' days.

And, for those who really know their stuff, quad skates are all about dancing.

In the past three months, roller discos have popped up in Milpitas and Oakland. In Brooklyn, some skaters started a weekly roller party where they skate to punk rock. Bay Area skate-shop managers say requests for conventional skates have increased; even a roller rink manager in Sacramento says teenagers and folks in their 20s have been requesting quads more often.

But in-lines aren't dead. Of 35 million skaters in America, more people had used Rollerblades -- more than 21 million, compared with nearly 11 million people who have used a pair of quad skates, a 2002 study conducted by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers and Marketing Association International found. (Not that it matters much which one you prefer: According to the National Museum of Roller Skating in Lincoln, Neb., the first skate was an in-line predecessor, invented in 1819. The quad skate wasn't patented until 1863.)

Still, the quad trend has the potential to gain some momentum, according to Kellie Habeeb, a spokesperson for USA Roller Sports. . It's something old, but it's something new, too," says Habeeb, whose organization has a national membership of more than 16,000 skaters.

chronrdisco2.jpg (60598 bytes)                           photo by Lacy Atkins, S.F. Chronicle

Warner Cheng does some fancy stretching while four wheeling in Golden Gate Park on a sunny day.

But now that the country's on the cusp of a roller-skating comeback, Habeeb says both professional and recreational skaters wonder how far it'll go

If the Black Rock Roller disco is any indication, roller skating is going to keep rolling. The 1970s roller disco, held earlier this month in Oakland at the Dry Ice Inline Hockey Arena, got off to a slow start. But by the end of the night, neophytes and spinners alike infused the air with the sweet smell of skater sweat, worked up from dancing to jams from the Gap Band, James Brown and Patrice Rushen. David G. Miles Jr., known locally as the "Godfather of Skating," was on the turntables all night.

Miles, 47, is the official ambassador of the skating world in the Bay Area: He created the Friday Night Skate -- a weekly event with 12 alternating routes for in-line skaters to choose from -- in 1989, after the Loma Prieta earthquake. Miles is also a skating instructor who has skated from San Francisco to Los Angeles 14 times for his Skate Against Violence campaign.

"I don't have a passion for anything else," Miles said. When the Kansas City, Mo., native moved here three decades ago, he instantly felt as if he belonged because of his skates. "All you have to do is show up and have fun. Skating opens up the world."

The proof is in disco.

Marilyn, 56, sat the first skate out. Of course she had roller skates -- old-fashioned white leather boots she found for a buck at a thrift store five years ago. They were just like the ones she grew up using, so she skated around Concord on them for two weeks before her knees demanded she stop.

The Saturday night disco was a perfect excuse for her to revive her interest -- but she was a little concerned about throwing her hip out of whack. Her friend Francisca tried to pull her away from her bar stool. "Oh, the body hurts," Marilyn whined. As she watched one guy grinning and gliding on the ice, she said, "I used to have confidence like that when I was like, 10."

Genie Frazer, 44, a legal secretary from San Rafael, laughed knowingly. The roller disco, which was partially a fund-raiser for the roller disco camp from Burning Man, gave her an excuse to put on her pink wig and get on the good foot. "I haven't skated since the 1970s, but I want to get a pair and take lessons." She loved skating when she was 5 and had skates with metal attachments she could put over her tennis shoes. Then there was the roller rink in San Leandro, where she went every weekend as a teenager.

But then, she said, "disco died," which meant that her roller skates hung out in her closet. In-lines became the big thing, Frazer laments, and "they looked horrible." She tried them out again, in Golden Gate Park in the 1980s. "It was a fiasco. I fell, but I was expecting to gracefully fly."

She didn't fall at the roller disco, thankfully. Now she can add roller skating back to her list of recreational activities, along with hanging out with her pit bull, Bunny, and hiking with her husband.

But for some skaters, roller skating is all there is.

Laura Sunday, 55, wore a lavender wig and an all-black outfit with sticky multicolored bows attached. She was dressed as a gift, and spent much of the night doing graceful, small dance steps on her quads.

"I can't find my soul in in-line skates," she said. "I like to dance."

And dance she does. Sunday has 200 choreographed moves she does with her friends when they roller-skate. When the dancing queen took a break, she sat on her stool to show off her wheels: They are soft and 59 centimeters wide with a thick dance plate that makes it easier for her to execute her moves.

For 20 years, she sat on the sidelines in Golden Gate Park, watching in admiration as the experts did their moves. After taking lessons and disciplining herself to skate to the likes of Ludacris or R. Kelly six days a week, Sunday says she's found her niche.

"Skating is the fountain of youth," she said. "I've gotten younger and younger since I started skating." As the svelte mother of a 21-year-old daughter and 18-year-old son, she seems to have found a good way to stay in shape. She bought her first pair of skates when she was 51.

Now "I start every day dancing."

Daniel Filner, a tall guy in a straw hat with reddish-brown hair, approached the break area, sweating. "I'm a skater first, and then, for the rest of my life, there are these other less interesting things I do," he said.

"Life is just waiting for the next skate," Sunday added, wistfully.

Filner, a 33-year-old computer programmer, has been skating for 10 years -- he likes in-line skating and racing because they give him "this sense of being in touch with my animal self."

If he blames anything for the waning interest in in-line skating, he says it's swing dancing, which is what it looks like he's doing when he goes back to the rink.

"You were just talking to a guy who skated around the world on MTV," said Chris Duderstadt -- the man responsible for renovating the skater's village in Golden Gate Park -- while sipping his beer. He's dressed in black with a Santa hat. He's been in Bay Area since 1972 and lives on 10th Avenue in San Francisco. He used to skate in the park during breaks from his office job.

Duderstadt has a wealth of information about Golden Gate Park, and says quad skates never went out of style, at least not at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Fulton. Part of it is that "anyone can Rollerblade. But to dance, you've got to put some time in."

At Golden Gate Park, skaters who haven't stopped dancing since polyester was hip still come out every Sunday afternoon for a communal spin around a 50- foot-square cul-de-sac. Since 1978, that area has been home to a skating village of people who love to dance on wheels.

While the popularity of in-lines and skateboards made roller skating and roller boogie Sunday afternoons less populated at the village, it's still "the best place for skaters in the world," says Miles. Sunday adds, "When I first skated on it, I bent down and kissed it."

A recent Sunday afternoon started off with a slight euphoric breeze and just a half dozen middle-aged professionals trying out their dance moves on quads. Duderstadt nodded solemnly, still dressed in black, coasting around under the tall trees.

The combination of the crisp winter air in the park, a tangerine sunset and Sheila E's duet with Prince blasting from two large speakers near the bushes inspired a few neophytes to join the old-timers. Park passers-by stopped to take pictures of what looked like a revolving time warp unfolding in front of them. Celina, a 21-year-old recent transplant from Sweden who came to San Francisco and then "got stuck," broke in her new bubble-gum-pink Puma skates, which she'd found at Buffalo Exchange.

She looked straight ahead for a little while, then down at her feet, and sputtered along as if she were just learning to walk.

"This is what California is known for, eh? Skates," she said. "And beaches."

Celina skated along cautiously and got more tips from Art Dewitt, who refers to himself as an "O.G.G." -- Old Golden Gater -- one of the skaters who used to boogie down to the park every Sunday afternoon in the 1970s. A tall, thin guy with wrist guards and scuffed black skates, Dewitt said skating is an opportunity to do "your Zen thing." Don't look down -- just float.

An older woman walked past Celina, who was still trying to make turns on her skates. "Whoa," the woman said. "Roller skates are getting popular again."

Her green backpack was weighing down her shoulders, but she stood staring at the skates anyway. "Back where they belong. You know, I could never do those other ones," she added before she walked away.

By around 3 p.m., there were about 30 people in the park -- on everything from simple wheels with no straps under their tennis shoes to a few pairs of in-line skates. Miles was still floating about, telling people about his next roller disco: another '70s-theme costume party that will be moving to a different roller rink throughout the Bay Area every month. The next one will be at the Redwood City Roller Rink on Jan. 31.

E-mail Joshunda Sanders at

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