If you ran into him on the street, you probably wouldn't recognise him. It may, however, attract people's attention if an adult man were to ride by on a bicycle like a teenager... Behind this alternative figure hides a BMX world champion and one of the most influential people in the industry.
Ruben Alcántara was born in Malaga 44 years ago. He was ahead of his time, as he is now. It didn't take him long to emigrate to the United States, the birthplace of BMX, to rub shoulders with the best in the world until he became number one. Now, after a long history of competitions and promotion, Alcántara has decided to turn Malaga into the new international benchmark for his sport. The first step was the design of the skate and BMX installation that bears his name in the Parque del Norte. The perfect curves, inclinations and endless lines have attracted thousands of fans from all over the world to the city, in addition to the most outstanding international competitions.
During his life as a professional, he didn't just ride in idyllic installations all over the world, he was also interested in their construction and design. He made notes, took measurements and collected data until, with the help of architect Aitor Veguillas, he founded the company Soul Parks, which years later has become a successful reality. They have designed and built parks all over Spain, especially in Malaga, and are about to embark on a major project in Tel Aviv, Israel. "When I tried a ramp and it went well, I always asked how it had been built. After seeing how good the skatepark in Malaga looked, my partner and I were clear that we could go down that road. Some councils of small towns contacted us because the fans themselves had told them that we were the right ones to do a similar installation in their area. It's been a relatively short time, but we're doing very well. In addition to the concrete 'bowls', we also included the dirt parks, which are cheaper and have a lot of pull with bikers," he explains.
Soul Parks has already designed nine skate parks and BMX parks in Spain, as well as the one on the way in Israel. Alcántara and Veguillas' company is in charge of design, but also advises on the drafting of the projects, monitors the work and manages the budget. The company does not build the concrete installations, but does build those that are made of earth, popularly known as 'campillos'.
What is striking is that the parks are well connected to their users. Before undertaking each project, they hold meetings with the fans in the area to take their preferences into account and listen to proposals. "We like to talk to the locals, with the people who are going to use them. We guide them because there are many park styles and they understand that changes can be made. By keeping them up to date with the process, everything is more positive," he explains. Zaragoza, Bilbao, Vigo, San Pedro de Alcántara, Pizarra, Vélez-Málaga and Malaga already have facilities designed by Soul Parks, a relatively cheap and very functional type of project for fans of all ages.
"We are turning Malaga into the new Mecca for this sport. In reality it already is with the bowl that I designed in Parque del Norte. There are fans from all over the world who come here for tourism and biking. Not only is this park already a great selling-point, but there are also others spread throughout the province which allow visitors to fully make the most of their trip. Professionals and brands come to Malaga to record because they know that here they will get excellent material," says Rubén Alcántara, who has disassociated himself from the park that bears his name. Although he delivered it through his company, in addition to getting Malaga to host the World Cup twice, that is now over. "We had an agreement that the council would continue as a 'sponsor', but then they told me that it couldn't continue. I don't think they appreciated what I did for them. I also think that they didn't care much either that I disassociated myself. It's been a disappointment," he says.
Although he no longer competes, Alcántara maintains a tight international agenda. The World Cup will no longer stop in the city, but Alcántara remains a judge and advisor. He has just arrived from Germany, where he travelled from Australia, then travelled to Mexico and later to the United States, where the final of the tournament is held. As if that was not enough, the International Cycling Union has recruited him as an advisor for the BMX events he organises, since this modality will be an Olympic sport in the Tokyo Games.
"The UCI has a parallel World Cup whose points help towards qualification for the Games. I'm a judge, but I'm an advisor in the competition system. Being a freestyle sport it is complex to score. BMX has been at the Olympics in the 'race' category, but not the freestyle, which will now be in the Games. I hope to be in Tokyo, it would be another dream".