Park," Since the late 1970's, when he
arrived on the scene, he's worked to protect the interests park skaters as coordinator of
the volunteer skate patrol. Even now he offers a free ski clinic every Sunday
a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the intersection of Sixth Avenue and John F. Kennedy Drive.
"My, you are a beginner aren't ,you?" Miles said, as he escorted me from the
sidewalk to the pavement. I was wearing wrist braces, big knee pads and elbow pads. I was
as shaky on my skates as a pillar of Jello the height of Coit Tower. It was hard to
be1ieve, but Miles' knowledge of skating movement and crisp intruction had me gliding
forward and backward on my own in minutes.
"Stay, with those basic moves now, practice them for a week, and you'll be on your
way," he said.
Actually, 1 was on my way faster than that. When I faced north, I could see my shadow.
I wanted that shadow to move with the easy, swinging grace I'd seen in the bright weekend
parade of park skaters. An as 1 willed their image into my shadow I felt the rhythm and
balance of the movements begin to make sense. Unfortunately, when I turned back into the
sunlight, my dancing shadow vanished, and my skates zoomed out from under me as if I'd
done a flying jump onto a pair of banana peels.
Ah, well. I was protected by my gear and going slow, as per Miles' recommendations. A
bit of bruise dues wasn't much to pay if I could really join a parade. I had always
thought I'd only be able to watch. "If I can do this," I scribbled in a
notebook, "anybody can."
According to Dave Hoby, proprietor of Magic Skates on Balboa Street lone of the last
two skate rental shops left_in the city, the hot skate scene days in San Francisco
were the years 1978-80, when up to 30 skate rental trucks would pull up to the park to
do business, and more than 8000 skaters flooded the blocked-off streets and sidewalks.
Alarmed by traffic and pedestrian problems, city officials banned skaters from some park
areas, and truck vendors from adjacent streets.
By moving into a nearby shop, Hoby was one of the few who managed to land on his feet.
He still rents skates and pads year-round, though he does locksmith work as well to make
ends meet. He hopes soon to move into a larger space on Fulton, closer to the park.
"As a fad, skating has come and gone in this country in a series of waves," Hoby
says. "We leveled out for a while, now things are picking up again."
The first wave was a ripple of interest in England, when a fun-loving chap named Joseph
Merlin impressed onlookers with the gliding magic of a pair of straight-running roller
skates in 1760.
One century later, American James Plimpton kicked off the next wave by devising a skate
with washers and a rubber ball between the wheels and footplate - a skate that could turn.
In the grand tradition of American business, Plimpton used his patents to create a
monopoly of worldwide franchised skating rinks. In another grand tradition of American
business, Plimpton's patents were encroached upon, and imitators soon became fierce
I found traces of skating's next big wave at the Rolladium in San Mateo. A - large rink
with a classic wooden floor, the Rolladium was raised in the late 1930's to serve a
skating boom that came of age during and after World War II.
"This place is a piece of skating history," says owner-operator Tom
Martinsen, "There's even postcards and photos of the Rolladium at the museum of
Behind a front door emblazoned with a list of regulations designed to promote a family
atmosphere was evidence of skating's current wide appeal - a crew of skaters spanning the
"The skating bug bit me when I was 15," Marjorie Dwyer of Daly City tells me.
"I'm 66 now. I started on a rink in Long Island, near an Army base. I used to have to
divide each tune several times so I could skate with all the.fellows that wanted to go.
Back then, there was a roller rink in every town."
Sparkling with health and energy, Dwyer is a testament to the long-term fitness
benefits of skating - particularly since a biking accident 10 years ago had doctors
telling her she'd never walk again- She rehabilitated herself through swimming, and
finally through a return to her first love,- skating.
"It's very healthy:' Dwyer says. "Older people don't have to sit around in
rocking chairs. The doctors had me with my feet propped up all day. I said to myself, this
isn't living; I think I'm better off taking a risk." And Dwyer sailed off onto the
roller rink, skating backward with the grace formed by all her years as a dance skater.
Dance skating is just one of the current roller skate disciplines; others are figure
skating, speed skating, skate hockey, and freestyle or artistic skating. This last is the
specialty of the Rolladium. Two of the hot youngsters that Martinsen coaches, Jessica
Barnett, 15, and Chris Vandeventer, 13. demonstrated some of their skills with an amazing
series of leaps and spins. Though they've already won in national competitions, tbeir
eventual goal is to compete in the Olympics.
This will be a bit of a trick since roller skating isn't currently contested in the
Olympics. But, Martinsen says; it very well may be by 1992. "We'll be an exhibition
sport in 1988," he says. "Which means we'll have a foot in the door. So people
can discover how much fun it is to watch."
In fact, people who want to observe the achievements of the sport will have an earlier
opportunity. The Rolladium will host the Bay Area championships next Sunday from 6 a.m. to
8 p.m., with spectator admission running $2.50 for the day:
People who want to try it themselves can check it out even earlier than that, by taking
lessons at one of the score of rinks scattered around Northern California.
"Keep your knees bent," Martinsen advised, adding to the tips tDave Miles had
given me. "Keep your feet together, and your weight centered and slightly
forward. If you start to fall, just relax, drop and try to roll with it"
Deriving confidence from the smooth rink floor, I soon was skating through turns. The
rink deejay shifted from the classic goofy organ music to driving rock videos. Riding the
rhythms, my skates picked up speed, and I started to sense parallels with the movements of
downhill and cross-country skiing.
To me, the biggest and most attractive parallel is the way a roller skater can make use
of the out-ofdoors. And you don't need to drive to the mountains to do it - the workaday
world of city asphalt becomes your playground.
In Golden Gate Park, D. Miles I has a dream. He'd like to see the park implement
its long delayed plan to turn the Sixth Avenue cutoff into a circular skate arena. Beyond
that, he'd like to see the city turn an unused wharf into a urban rink, and hire him to
run the programs he's done for years for free.
"Everbody tells city kids don't do drugs,' but what can they do? Skate. On
a wonderful day like today, the sun is shining, you 've got your radio, and you're
dancing. Eyerybody is smiling at you. It's a good feeling of free-spiritedness, the
feeling we all like to have. I.can't quite put it into words, but when I'm on skates,
it.all comes out.
A CAll for Funds
Though the design for the skate area at the junction. Of Sixth Avenue and John F.
Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park is almost complete, no funds are available to construct
According to Deborah Learner of the city Recreation Parks Department, the situation is
custom-made for a donor. The design may include an enrance arch on Fulton Street with a
Potential park benefactors, and those who wish to provide further input on the skate
area design, should write Learner at the Jtecreation and Park Department, Planning,
McLaren Lodge, ' San Francisco 94117; or phone 415-558-3182