Holy Rollers

San Francisco’s cathedral to roller skating continues its good works despite COVID-19.

If San Francisco’s Burning Man community had a love child with the city’s roller-skating set, the kid would undoubtedly be raised in the Church of 8 Wheels. Located in the Fillmore District, the converted house of worship has been a place of “sacred” refuge for Bay area skaters for years. Once the sanctuary of Sacred Heart Church, the uniquely San Francisco roller rink got its start on Nov. 5, 2013. Over the past seven years the space has come to embody a sense of camaraderie that attracts skaters from all across the country, as well as plenty of locals.

That community was disrupted when the pandemic swept into San Francisco, and the Church of 8 Wheels’ “parishioners” were forced to take their prayers outside into the open air. However, as our president-elect recently noted, for everything there is a season… which, despite a desire and mission to reopen in the first part of November has been yet again delayed due to Mayor London Breed’s recent announcement rolling back indoor business re-openings due to surging COVID numbers.

While some folks have been fearing that the rink might be up against a pending wrecking ball, skaters can take comfort in the knowledge that their cathedral is safe. The rink is currently in the clear for at least another couple of years of devout roller worship. 

When the inside skating is once again allowed, the church will reopen with new measures designed to keep its holy rollers safe.

The Church of 8 Wheels was among the first places to shutter at the onset of the pandemic. However, while it’s been closed, church deacons have been hard at work completing renovations and developing some best practices.

David Miles Jr. on Thursday, July 6th, 2017. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)

David Miles, colloquially known as San Francisco’s “Godfather of Skate,” is the church’s founder and resident DJ. A longtime promoter of local skating events, Miles says he chose the name of his venue for obvious reasons. First, the rink is located in a former church. But second, and perhaps more important, it serves a population that holds a deep reverence for the pastime.

Miles is trepidatious about reopening the church but has been diligent in his efforts to ensure safety. He partnered with local general contractor Robert Wurgaft to install pandemic-specific systems for the rink. The pair (joined by David’s wife, Rose) to brainstorm additional measures to ensure the safety of the skaters. 

“Folks wanting to attend skate sessions will have to pre-register. Thirty-five skaters will be able to skate for two-hour sessions at a time.” Rose Miles says.

“When you come in, you’ll have to take a temperature test. You’ve got to wear a mask when you come in.” David Miles says. 

Miles discussed a couple of systems designed specifically for his facility. “Skate equipment and things will then be put into coolers with UV lights. It’s a UV sanitation system and skate sanitizer box that the general contractor developed. A commercial strength sterilizing wand made by [Wurgaft] will be used on things to make sure everything that comes in is clean. The rink also has an air scrubbing system installed to continuously clean the air as folks skate.” Miles says.

Like many other spaces, the church will have multiple hand washing stations. Skaters are encouraged to practice social distancing as they skate in the rink. With the limited amount of skaters allowed inside at a time, this should be relatively easy.

These adjustments have kept Miles and crew busy. However, these are not the only things that have kept the church alive. During the pandemic, the church has been unable to make money from the price of admission (which was already low by San Francisco recreation standards), nor have they been able to host special events. And so, they have had to be a bit entrepreneurial. They opened an online shop to sell merchandise, such as skates, masks, and T-shirts.

The Church of 8 Wheels. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)

“I wasn’t going to sell skates!” Miles says with a laugh. “Skate sales have saved us.” 

In fact, the pandemic has seen a surge in roller skating sales across the country. This phenomenon has brought a lot of additional new interest to skating — especially among women. Multiple news outlets have reported on the phenomenon, including the Washington Post, Business Insider, and The New York Times. Skate culture is serving as a safe space for people to roll out their anxiety.

“Demand has really boomed,” Miles says with excitement. “It’s a roller revival!” 

If you are interested in going to the church, you can look up the schedule and register on their website, Churchof8wheels.com. If you’re not ready to go in the rink itself, even when it does get clearance to reopen, you can still support the cause by buying skates from their website, rolligion.com. Skates and gear are available for purchase anywhere around the country. San Francisco locals, however, can coordinate local pick up from the church if so desired as well. 

In the meantime, Miles continues to organize events outside.

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