Portugal’s famed cobblestone streets add that special flavor to the country: the varied inlaid designs, different from one neighborhood to the next, polished by thousands of footsteps and tires over time, give Portuguese cities their finishing touch of charm.
But the cobblestones can be a nightmare too. They’re slippery when wet, biking on them is a pain in the ass (literally), and don’t even think about trying to skateboard on them, especially not the ones with eléctrico (tram) tracks.
Bio Boards Land Surf founder and deck engineering guru Ricardo Marques has plenty of Portuguese-specific design experience — he’s already developed a cork skateboard for surfers. Now, however, he has achieved the unthinkable: he has made one for surfing on cobblestones.
As a veteran skateboarder (he started when he was 11) with an obvious penchant for innovation, Marques was challenged by FCB Lisboa, Fuel TV, and the production company Bro Cinema to create a special board to ride down the tram rails splitting both asphalt and cobblestone streets. This would be a far cry from the old-school street skateboards he was used to riding, but he was up to the task.
As alternative sports enthusiasts ourselves, we were dying to know the story behind the boards, so we reached out to Ricardo Marques to find out what the deal is, how the cobblestone riders came about, and how to get our hands on one of those boards.
Is the riding strategy the same as on a regular skateboard? What does it feel like to ride the rails?
It’s a bit different, it’s like skating downhill, but here, the board already knows where to go. You don’t need to learn any new techniques, really. For anyone who is accustomed to sports such as skateboarding, snowboarding, and surfing, it is almost an instant learning process. You just have to maintain balance and enjoy the adrenaline rush without losing your concentration — otherwise there could be a shock of pain.
How many variations of designs did you go through before you established the final one? Did you encounter any problems?
Not many. In fact, with our previous experience building bio boards, as soon as we got involved in this project, we knew exactly what to do and which materials to use. The development was very quick and accurate. In just a couple of weeks we had a functional prototype ready to go down the streets of Porto. The only problem is that sometimes the rails are not in the best conditions of conservation…
Once you got the final design established, what materials did you use for it?
As I mentioned before, with all the experience we gained by developing bio boards, we knew exactly what to use: cork for adhesion and shock absorption, and pine and birch for strength and flexibility. They can even be customized for the right price!
Do you produce them all one at a time?
We are at an early stage, and the production process will evolve with demand. That is, they will initially be commissioned piece by piece and later, when justified, the process will evolve into serial production. Right now, only six boards exist.
Do you make them by yourself or do you have a team?
We are the bio boards team, a small company that develops skateboards for land surfing. We have the chance to be part of this great project and help out with all of the development. It’s been a great team project with FCB Lisboa, Bro Cinema and Fuel TV. The bio boards team is José Costa (mechanical engineer), Márcio Santos (PhD in biomechanics of surf), Diogo Oliveira (co-founder), Vasco Sousa (rider and advisor), and myself (creative founder and rider, surfer, and skater).
Where can we get them and how much do they cost?
The final price is hard to pin down at this stage. It will depend on individual customization and market demand.
While you’re waiting for your very own way to ride the rails, you can still find places around Lisbon and Porto to practice on your soon-to-be-outdated deck. Ricardo recommends:
Casa da Música, El Corte Inglès, Ermesinde, and the coastlines of Gaia, Espinho and Matosinhos in Porto, and Portas do Sol, Pedrouços, and the coastlines of Carcavelos, Cascais, Estoril Parque das Nações, and Parque das Gerações in Lisbon.
We have high hopes for Ricardo, Bio Boards, and the Cobblestone Riders. Even though these radical skateboards are used primarily in Porto and Lisbon, they’re catching on slowly. Now you can find rail riders in Barcelona, San Francisco, and Rio de Janeiro, so it’s only a matter of time before they take over the world, one rail at a time.