How a Bricklayer from Kansas City Became the Next Almighty
David Miles Jr. moved to California, roller skated and turned his passion into San Francisco’s hottest new religion.
L. Ron Hubbard and the Scientologists have science fiction, Joseph Smith and the Mormons have polygamy, and David Miles Jr. and the Church of 8 Wheels have roller skating. These are individuals in pursuit of something that makes them infinitely happy, something leisurely that fits within the confines of the worldly processes and systems they’ve been placed—that “something leisurely” is religion.
Thirty six years ago—before he was known as “the Godfather of Skating”—Miles was a union bricklayer leading a “pretty slick” life in his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri. “I only came out because my mom kept telling me...‘Come to California, California is this, California is that.’ ” Though never a fervent roller skater before coming to San Francisco, a fateful run in with four such skaters in Golden Gate Park grabbed his attention and changed his life forever. “People roller skate outside in the parks out here, huh? Hippies!”
What makes Miles so much more likeable than Hubbard and Smith (besides his values) is the simplicity of what he calls “Rolligion.” There’s nothing to confuse the intent of A) skate in a circle, and B) be nice to others. Though simplified (sometimes they skate in a line), Miles leaves very little room for translation. “This is the deal, as long as you’re not lying, stealing, causing trouble, you should be able to just soak this up.”
As any successful religious leader must, Miles appears to understand very well the subtleties of compliance and persuasion. There is a warm ease about his presence and speech. A speech that is very familiar with the ways and workings of the world. He acknowledges you even from afar, and makes you feel welcome, skates or not—almost infinitely amiable. He’s what one high socially ranking member of San Francisco’s elite called, “reasonable people.”
Miles could easily be confused for a 1980s wrestler adorned with faux feather boa leg warmers, tights, sleeveless tee shirt, and matching feather overcoat and cowboy hat. The flamboyance of his (pretty customary) outfit, however, does not combat his composed tone and calm demeanor.
Despite being brand new to the City in the summer of 1979, Miles was enthroned as the de facto leader of the Golden Gate Park Skate Patrol—what was then a group of avid skaters charged to protect crowds that numbered 15,000-20,000 every Sunday. 1979 also marks the year devotees of the Church of 8 Wheels claim that the church was officially established. In light of the fact that the founding of a religion coincides with his arrival (or “second coming”), Miles has steered clear of the fanatical vindication sought by the fortresses of other organized religions, “I roller skate for a living. I’m a skater. That’s basically it.”
He has worked hard to represent everything that these other fragile institutions do not, by not allowing the cause to interfere with his pleasure.
His slightly unconcerned attitude toward the institution itself is mirrored in his thoughts on the brick and mortar that now symbolizes the Church of 8 Wheels. “What I’m finding now is that I’m trapped. I’m in a fantastic cage. Everybody thinks that when they buy their bird a really beautiful cage the bird should appreciate it.”
In March 2014—years after Miles’ believers actually used the word Church to describe the fellowship—at 554 Fillmore Street in San Francisco’s Western Addition neighborhood, the Church of 8 Wheels serendipitously found itself housed inside an actual abandoned church. The fantastic facade, which seems to be only possible in the cosmos of catholicism, masks the humble purpose of Miles and his “disciples,” “getting more people on skates. Spreading, not just ‘I’m on my wheels,’ but the attitude that goes with it—the camaraderie, the community.”
Miles cites the classic adage, “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” His statement confers a powerfully gripping reality, which is that David Miles Jr.—the roller skating advocate—is all of us, and all of us are David Miles Jr. We have all allowed leisure to become our religion. We work to make money to be able to afford the free time we imagine will make us happy. For others, like Miles, they make their leisure their means and their ends to happiness—he has found simpler pleasures for contentment, and has chosen to skip the “work” part. Miles and those like him are the figures that create their own belief systems. They are the ones people choose to follow. They are the individuals people call Lord.
In “D’s” name we skate, Amen.