Train Surfing: The Extreme 'Sport' That's Both Deadly And Illegal

Look on Instagram, Youtube, or TikTok, and you'll find videos and images of thrill seekers trying out their latest dangerous adventure. Think Tide Pod challenge (for the uninitiated, that's the social media stunt daring people to ingest the laundry detergent pods) or wingwalking (walking on the wings of an airplane in flight). Add one more to the list. It's called train surfing. The deadly practice has killed hundreds of people and left thousands paralyzed or severely injured, according to Surfer Today. It involves people riding on top or hanging off the side of a moving train. It's actually been around for decades, but has received new attention thanks to social media.

In New York City, where they call it subway surfing, the Metropolitan Transit Authority says there's been a 560% increase in incidents from January to May of 2022 compared to the same time period in 2021, according to the New York Post.

New York City sees a dramatic rise in cases

In June of 2022, a group of eight people, clad in black and recording themselves, were seen walking and dancing on top of a moving train as it crossed the Williamsburg Bridge in New York City, according to NBC New York.

Two weeks after that stunt, a 15-year-old boy suffered a severe head injury while riding on top of another New York City train. The incident was also captured on video. And in August of 2022, a 15-year-old fell off yet another New York City train which ran over him, severing his arm, according to The Guardian.

In response to the rise in incidents, law enforcement has stepped up patrols, according to NBC New York. New York Police Department Transit Chief Jason Wilcox attributes the increase in part to social media. "We have seen recent incidents of persons, mostly very young, riding on the top of or on the back of train cars. This is incredibly dangerous," he said, according to The New York Post. "There [is] nothing fun or funny about this type of activity and we will continue to work towards deterring it."

New York City isn't the only place with a problem

While New York City has seen an explosive rise in incidents of train surfing, it's certainly not confined to The Big Apple. Train surfing has gained attention in Europe, Africa, Brazil, Russia, and India, not always though as a way to gain social media attention, but sometimes as a way for the impoverished to get around. It's been around since the second half of the 19th century, according to Surfer Today, giving those who couldn't afford to buy a ticket, a less expensive, though incredibly risky alternative.

In the 1980s, it changed from a cheap mode of transportation to a form of entertainment for bored teens in South Africa and Brazil. In 2008, 40 people in Germany died in train surfing accidents. And in 2011, 100 more deaths resulted from train surfing, this time in Russia, according to Surfer Today.

Despite the danger, or perhaps because of it, train surfing has a following. One YouTuber who regularly posts videos of himself on trains across Europe has more than two million subscribers. The practice is illegal in most countries.