Subway Surfing: Kid Kahunas of the Underground

---------------------------------------"Can't make it to Malibu, Honolulu is too far to go. But the Green Line waves are calling me, though Copley is covered in snow. Subway, subway surfin' no fair to hold on. Some talk of sun and sand and surf that pounds, now meet the Kid Kahuna of the underground."---------------------------------------Rich Newman surfed the Green Line as a "cool" way to pass the time commuting to Boston Latin High School back in 1963. The worst injury a "surfer" could get back then, though, was a stomped-on foot or maybe a bony elbow to the ribs. That's because Newman and his surfin' buds caught imaginary waves on the inside of the car.Today, the innocent daydreams of some Boston schoolboys that inspired the 1996 song "Subway Surfing" have evolved into a lethal and increasingly popular urban sport. In January, the bloodied bodies of Cory Hammerstone and William Quinn, both 15, were found in Brooklyn's Bay Parkway Station. NYPD Transit Bureau detectives believe the pair climbed aboard the N train one stop prior to where they were found and "surfed" until they either lost their balance or were knocked from the train by a low-hanging beam. Two months later, two Belfast tourists, Laurence Mackey, 22, and Sean Curran, 21, fell from a northbound E train in a tunnel between the 65th and 74th street stations in Queens. Both were seriously injured.There are several levels of "subway" or "train surfing" skills: The beginners, or rookies, hang onto the side of a train as it passes through a station, letting go seconds before it plunges into the tunnel. Fourteen-year-old James Glovesky was killed in this manner last August on the MBTA's Red Line in Boston. And in 1998, MBTA police arrested three teenage boys after witnessing them "train surf" at the same station.Intermediate "surfers" hold on with only one hand or arch their bodies away from the train, pulling back just in time to dodge the columns and gates spotted along the platform. Hardcore "surfers" will ride on top of the train, sitting or kneeling until they get in sync with the rocking motion, then stand up. "Once you stand, you can't relax for a second," says one South American "train surfing" veteran. "You're trying to duck low overpasses, dodge electrical wires and maintain your balance all at the same time. It's not easy."This type of "surfing" was mostly unknown in the United States until 1989, when the New York City Transit Police attributed the death of a man found along the tracks to "train surfing." Railway police officials in Australia and Great Britain have also attributed injuries and deaths to this deadly high-stakes game, but nowhere has it reached the epidemic portions that it did in Rio de Janeiro in 1990. In that year, 150 impoverished kids died in gruesome "train surfing" accidents and 170 more were injured -- the majority of them from the slums of northern Rio. Psychologists believed that this "surfing" craze was a virtual suicide gesture among kids trapped in lives condemned to poverty. The kids just said it was addictive.But what caused Cory Hammerstone to climb atop New York's N train with his friend William Quinn that night? His brother Harry, 19, said Cory was not a daredevil. "My brother would not go train surfing," he said. But British psychologist Dr. Mark McDermott says, "Teenage boys generally take far greater risks with their health and well-being than their female counterparts. Among certain groups of boys -- and they can be from any background -- larking around on a train is a way of proving themselves to their friends; establishing a pecking order and enhancing a reputation." The 90s were also the decade that brought us extreme sports. Sky-surfing, bungee-jumping and ultimate skateboarding were carried into the mainstream by sports cable networks and their advertising partners, almost challenging teens to resist the high-speed rush. This is a review of a Nintendo video game that requires the main character to "train surf": "After the ferocity of the previous level, the game's tempo slows a little with some train surfing. To get to IG88, Dash must ride along junkyard trains, jumping from carriage to carriage."Most departments are reluctant to speak-out publicly about "subway" or "train surfing" for fear of encouraging copycat offenders. Simon Lubin, Media Manager for the British Transport Police, says media interest is generally not helpful because it tends to make heroes of offenders amongst their peer group. An argument can be made, however, that publicly confirming a death due to "subway" or "train surfing" can act as a deterrent to the offender's peers. In 1994, 19-year old Roberto Rodriguez was killed after being knocked from the roof of a No. 2 train as it rumbled from elevated to underground tracks in the Bronx. Earlier that day, he had been bragging about his thrill-seeking rides atop subway cars. "You hear the stories," said friend Sean Regal. "But in the end, you know you're going to get killed."---------------------------------------"Subway, subway surfin' no fair to hold on. Some talk of sun and sand and surf that pounds, now meet the Kid Kahuna of the underground." ---------------------------------------Song lyrics copyright 1996 by R&F Newman

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