|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
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
"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
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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.