This story was originally published in November 2016 as part of The California Report Magazine's "Hidden Gems" series. It re-aired on July 3rd, 2020 for a special show called "Buckle Up: A (Virtual) Road Trip to CA Hidden Gems." Note: The indoor rink is closed due to shelter-in-place orders, but the Church of 8 Wheels is holding outdoor skating events — including a socially distanced disco party in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, every Friday night.
Daniel Albert climbs a dusty church tower, lifts his arms above his head and grabs hold of a rope that comes from a hole in the ceiling. As he pulls it, the church bell on the other end chimes and resonates across this central San Francisco neighborhood. It’s 7 o’clock on a Friday night.
Then the music begins. But instead of hearing hymns, I hear disco. That’s because I’m at the Church of 8 Wheels. It’s a roller disco in a 120-year-old former Catholic church, just blocks from San Francisco’s famous Painted Lady rowhouses at Alamo Square. Albert is the operations manager, but he doubles as a rollerblading sensation. If you’ve been to this church, on Fillmore at Fell, you’ll know him as the guy with metallic reflective wings.
In the expansive space, old pews are pushed against the walls and lights reflect off a disco ball and onto the ceiling murals. David G. Miles Jr., known as the “Godfather of Skate,” proselytizes. “I am your roller disco minister,” he says. “I mean, it’s the Church of 8 Wheels, and as the godfather it’s my responsibility to spread rolligion everywhere I go.”
That's right. Rolligion.
The Church of 8 Wheels is Miles’ brainchild.
He moved to San Francisco in 1979. “I started skating in Golden Gate Park on my third or fourth day in San Francisco,” he says. “When I went out there I saw four people go by on roller skates and I was like, ‘Wow! They do that here?! I can do that.’ I went and got a pair of skates.”