Subway ‘surfing’ leaves a grisly, deadly toll in New York City

NEW YORK — One-time subway “surfer” Isa Islam has a straightforward message for the thrill-seeking youngsters sparking a surge in riders traveling on the roofs of New York City trains: Don’t do it.

Islam was left partially blind when his head hit a metal beam in a Brooklyn subway station while riding on top of a subway car at the age of 17 in 2013.

“I went up there just to get an adrenaline rush. It was extremely stupid,” the now 27-year-old told AFP, recalling his first and last attempt at so-called subway surfing.

Reports of people riding outside cars on America’s largest subway system have quadrupled in a year, according to newly released data.

Transport authorities are blaming videos of youngsters performing the daring stunts on social media for causing copycat attempts.

The death of a 15-year-old boy last month, which followed the death of another teenager in December, prompted police to warn that the subway is “not a playground.”

Late at night in November 2013, Mr Islam – just days shy of his 18th birthday – and two cousins ​​boarded a southbound F train.

As it entered the Fourth Avenue-Ninth Street station in Park Slope, Mr. Islam away for a moment before slamming directly into the beam.

He passed in and out of consciousness as blood soaked the roof of the train. His cousins ​​thought he was dead.

“The pain level was off the meter. I’m spraying hot sauce out of my scalp,” Islam recalled.

The New Yorker was admitted to intensive care and spent six weeks in the hospital. He underwent “many” surgeries and is now partially sighted.

Islam considers himself lucky to be alive, but the reckless act is his greatest regret.

“If anyone needs a time machine, it’s me,” he said.


It is illegal to drive outside the trains on the New York subway.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which runs the network, said reports of people traveling outside cars — including on top of and between cars — rose from 206 in 2021 to 928 in 2022.

MTA officials say viral videos of “surfing” youths posted on TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat and other sites last spring and summer caused the spike.

MTA chief Janno Lieber urged platforms to stop such clips from being posted.

“If they ran videos of people playing Russian roulette with live marbles, they would understand the consequences, and that’s the equivalent of kids being encouraged to do this by the glorification video,” he told local radio recently.

A TikTok spokesman told AFP the site “does not show videos of known dangerous behavior in search results” and instead directs searches to guidelines that say such content is not allowed.

Snapchat says it “immediately removes” subway surfing videos if it becomes aware of them.

A spokesman said the company’s security staff met with MTA officials in recent weeks “to discuss steps we can take to prevent the spread of this content.”

The stunts are also similar to the mobile game Subway Surfers, hugely popular among children, where the user jumps on trains to escape an angry inspector after being caught doing graffiti.

Islam is now warning about the dangers of surfing the subway in his role as a motivational speaker for Breaking the Cycle, a nonprofit that encourages people to overcome hardship by choosing forgiveness.

“It’s not a video game. 110 percent don’t surf the subway,” he said. AFP