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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Shake Your Groove Thing: Q&A with the GodFather of Skate, Church of 8 Wheels Founder

Posted By on Thu, Apr 17, 2014 at 2:00 PM

Fact: Heaven is a place on earth and it's conveniently located at the corner of Fillmore and Fell Streets at the Church of 8 Wheels.

Let the celestial voice of Whitney Houston be your guide and lead you into a temple where the only unpardonable sin is the inability to have fun.

Arrive at just the right time and all you weary travelers will hear the late songbird's hit "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" blast through the doors of what was formerly the Sacred Heart Parish of San Francisco. Enter and you'll find what remains of the building's former self -- pews and crucifixes -- mixed in with its new decor that consists of disco balls, strobe lights and plenty of rainbow fringe. Think of it as a throwback to Studio 54, minus the cocaine decadence, and the Bee Gees as the holy trinity.

Recent word of mouth has turned the Church of 8 Wheels into one of San Francisco's most popular destinations and as a result it's expanded to four nights a week. Let's just say that our City is currently having a rolligious experience and no one is more pleased than D. Miles Jr. aka The GodFather of Skate.

  • Ellie Loarca's iPhone

SF Weekly caught up the mastermind behind the Church of 8 Wheels and discussed his divine higher calling among other things.

Could you describe the origins, or genesis if you will, of the Church of 8 Wheels?

The Church of 8 Wheels was the description given to our Sunday skate in Golden Gate Park years before we ever rolled into the Church. For the past 35 years we at Skatin' Place have been skating every Sunday at Sixth Avenue and Kennedy Drive in the park. There are many people that have skated many years here. For us, skating has always been a rolligious experience. It is through some kind of "divine guidance" I have been led here.

Why a church and how did you manage to land this venue?

Access to the Church was a total blind accident. I hate it when I can't go skating on Sunday in the park. On a rainy Sunday I asked around if anyone knew of a space we could skate just for the day. One of my skater friends asked his friends who own the church if we could use it for that afternoon and they said yes. When we all got together and created the fun, loving, inclusive, interactive, wonderful skate scene, everyone involved could see that this was something very special.

Have you received any opposition from churchgoers who might accuse this of sacrilege or desecration of a church?

No. Everyone from the neighbors to the former parisioners understand that this is not a church anymore since its final mass. The Archdiocese of San Francisco has said that now it's just a regular building. The people are delighted to see that there is something positive going on in this space and it is building a sense of community in this area we like to call Fillmore Hill.

How do you personally justify a roller disco in a church?

When we are there skating in joyous delight, we are a perfect example of what a church is supposed to be. We are a community of people celebrating life with wheels on our feet sharing with each other, caring about each other and spreading the positive vibe to all who want to participate.

What's your own background with skating and how'd you earn the title of GodFather of Skate?

I never toot this horn, but you will not find another person in the U.S. that has worked as hard as I have over the past 35 years to promote skating. I started skating on Sundays in Golden Gate Park (Skatin' Place Sundays) in March of 1979. I became head of the Golden Gate Park Skate Patrol in July 1979. From that point on, I have been known as the leader of the roller skating contingent both recreationally and politically. I have organized, participated and presented thousands of skating competitions, events, races, and more over the years.

Skate Against Violence, Skate Against Hate, Skate Against Hunger -- I love to use my skating to help people. There is not enough space in SF Weekly to list all my contributions to rollerskating. I fell in love with roller skating 35 years ago and the love affair is still burning bright. I met my wife Rose in the park in June of 1979 and although she doesen't skate much now, she is just as much involved as I am. My kids are all champion skaters and we have won thousands in skate competitions, particularly the Red Bull Great Skate competitions. I also run the roller disco at Burning Man and 2014 will mark my 14th year.

The people call me the GodFather of Skate because skating is my entire life. It's a term of respect.

  • Jonathan Ramos' iPhone

What do you hope San Francisco takes away from an evening at the Church of 8 Wheels?

I hope people feel that when they come skate at the Church of 8 Wheels, they leave rejuvenated with the unique sprit and energy that is San Francisco. This City is still alive and kickin'. There are many who feel that the City is losing its soul with high rents moving others out. Both native San Franciscans and those transplants making this their home are welcome here. The spirit of San Francisco comes alive every time we open those doors. We love to dress up in costumes and skate the night away. We love people having a good time and we especially love the funk and roller disco music.

Are there commandments or a moral code associated with the Church of 8 Wheels?

Actually we follow many of the principles of Burning Man.

  • Radical Inclusion
  • Gifting
  • Decommodification
  • Radical Self-Reliance
  • Radical Self-Expression
  • Communal Effort
  • Civic Responsibility
  • Leaving No Trace
  • Participation
  • Immediacy

One commandment would be, "Never let your skating endanger others".

The Church of 8 Wheels is open on Tuesdays. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 7 to 10 p.m. Entrance is $10 dollars and skate rentals $5 dollars.

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF, Jonathan at @jonramos17, and like us on Facebook.

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Jonathan Ramos


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