Skate against violence travels to Southern Cal

by George McConnell

By jet, it takes about an hour to go from San Francisco to Los Angeles. If your mode of transportation is roller-skates, however, it takes a bit longer and requires a certain raison d'etre.

But Richmond District resident David Miles is passionate about why he will be making this journey. And because it will mark his sixteenth skating marathon to the southland, he knows the route by heart.

Miles is well known in the Bay Area's skating community. His credentials include being president of the California Outdoor Roller-skating Association, a member of the Golden Gate Park Skate Patrol, and founder of the city's Midnight Rollers Friday Night Skate. He's produced a popular public television show called the "The Skatin' Place," appeared on the Discovery Channel and been featured in Sports Illustrated.

But he wasn't always a skating buff and says his interest was sparked in a virtual blink of an eye. Just days after moving to San Francisco from Kansas City in 1979, he was strolling in Golden Gate Park when four roller-skaters went whizzing by. Outdoor skating was unheard of in Kansas and he was amazed. The next day he went out and bought his first pair of skates.

"It was a different era, and all the skating back in Kansas was indoors at the roller rink. I wasn't into roller-skating then," Miles said.

He was a bricklayer in Kansas, but he was tired of the cold weather and wanted something different. His mother had moved to San Francisco and urged him to move here also.

"So, I cashed my last unemployment check and bought a bus ticket. It was one-way. When I came here, it was like changing channels," he said.

Shortly after he took up skating, he and a group of friends formed the Golden Gate Park Skate Patrol to help injured skaters and promote skating in the park. One year later, in 1980, they held the first skate-a-thon to Los Angeles as part of a hunger project. Although the trip was successful, the next trip did not take place until 1989.

The loss of a close friend to violence motivated him to change the focus of the event to a skate against violence. It's a rolling anti-violence campaign, Miles says.

"With so much crime in the Bay Area, I was attracted to the message," said Robert Wurgafp, who will be skating this year for his fourth time.

"I think our cause is important. We want to show that working together we can reach a common goal, as well as the positive aspects of skating, being outdoors and doing something physical, which helps put your mind right," Wurgafp said.

With the rising cost of gasoline, skating is a viable alternative transportation, adds Miles.

There will be 12 skaters participating this year, accompanied by a support staff of six and two RVs. The skating takes place nonstop day and night. Each skater takes a one-hour turn before another skater takes over, according to Miles. That's roughly 39 miles for each skater on the 462-mile route.

"We go about 10 to 15 miles-per-hour. You can't skate on the interstate, so we skate along the back roads and country roads. Sometimes we are alone and sometimes we have police and highway patrol escorts," Miles said.

The trip will begin on the steps of San Francisco's City Hall. From there, they skate over the Bay Bridge and into Oakland. After circling Lake Merritt, they head south over Hecker Pass and then south through the San Joaquin Valley. On their way, they will skate through Fresno, Visalia, Porterville and Bakersfield and other cities before getting to Los Angeles.

"You have to be a pretty proficient skater to participate, not Olympic level, but capable of skating a full hour. We have skaters from all over. The average age of the skaters this year is around 40," said Miles, who is 52.

Departure time is 9 a.m. on Monday, April 14. If all goes according to plan, the skaters will arrive at the Santa Monica pier on April 17.

Each participating skater contributes $500 to help finance the trip, and donations make up the rest. The total cost of the trip is around $9,000, according to Miles.

"There's some incredible terrain along the way, but it's not always a smooth road. You don't know what is going to happen," Wurgafp said. "When we get into LA, we are greeted by large crowds, and the L.A. Fire Department escorts us along the last mile to the finish line."

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