Train surfing: a dangerous and illegal practice that has killed thousands of people | Photo: Creative Commons

It is illegal, dangerous, and has already claimed hundreds of lives. Media outlets call it a "sport," but actually, that is as irresponsible as participating in it.

Train surfing, also known as tram surfing or subway surfing, is the act of riding on the exterior parts of a moving train.

Train surfers ride outside of the structure, either on the side, behind, or on the roof of the railroad car. Sometimes, they even attempt to jump from one train to another or onto railway platforms.

The illegal practice has its roots in the second half of the 19th century, when poor workers, migrants, and soldiers had no money to buy a regular train ticket.

So, it actually started not as a hobby but as a means of survival.

But train surfing quickly transformed into extreme urban recreation. In the 1980s, South African and Brazilian teenagers started surfing atop train cars just for the thrill of it.

Train surfing: it all started as a means of survival | Photo: Creative Commons

Living for the Moment

Adolescents coming from disadvantaged backgrounds found in train surfing a way of liberating themselves from harsh social environments.

They didn't care if it was a hazardous, life-threatening wild practice - they lived for the moment.

The truth is that, since then, the illegal activity has killed hundreds of people and also left thousands paralyzed or severely injured.

The train surfing fever quickly spread to Europe's largest metropolitan areas. During the 1990s, the "S-Bahn-Surfen" movement hit Germany like a tsunami and was later rediscovered in the 2000s.

In 2008, 40 German youngsters lost their lives due to train surfing activities.

A Deadly Pastime

In Russia, the problem expanded to the subway system. Train surfers began hitting the Moscow Metro and even created organized online communities where they shared their experiences and urged peers to ride faster and wilder.

In 2011, over 100 train surfers died in Russia.

Train surfing is also becoming a serious issue in over-populated countries like India and Bangladesh, especially in places where poverty and despair generate reckless behaviors.

With the advent of the internet and the first generation of YouTubers, train surfers started filming and sharing their risky stunts online, which only increased its popularity worldwide.

"Once you are on the train, you should not hurry and keep a cool head. If you are tense, your mind gets distracted. You don't realize when a pole approaches and hits you," an Indian train surfer once told filmmaker Adrien Cothier.

"I was very scared in the beginning. But as I practiced and grew older, the fear subsided. But I do feel some fear. I think about what will happen if I fall again."

The French director shot "Train Surfing: One Mistake and This Illegal 'Sport' Might Kill You," a short film about a group of Mumbai youngsters who light up their dull lives by defying death at high speed.

The movie features hair-raising footage.

Cheap and Exciting

But why do teenagers embrace train surfing? They do it not only because they actually get a free ride by train, but also because of the adrenaline rush that comes with it and the feeling of speed they get.

Occasionally, train surfers state that it is the only way to get moving when the train is crowded or extremely hot inside. However, there's generally an entertainment factor associated with the treacherous hobby.

Train surfing is prohibited nearly everywhere in the world. Railroad companies and police are increasingly alert to this misconduct and will fine and arrest people who ride trains on the outside.

"Surfing Soweto," a documentary by Sara Blecher, reveals the story of three alienated South African train surfers who risk their lives on a daily basis.

The list of dangers associated with train surfing is immense.

Riders can easily fall off the rail transport, get electrocuted, and collide with other trains, tunnels, bridges, railway signals, and platforms.

Train surfing is a phenomenon that has killed thousands of youngsters. But there are still many people doing it - couples riding together, women in lingerie, hip-hop dancers, and lone wolves.

It is not a video game like "Subway Surfers." It is real life and puts an end to anyone's dreams in less than a second.

Top Stories

I'm now making a surfing video game called "Surfers Code," but I probably shouldn't be.

He's one of the legends of surfing history who passed away too soon. Sion Milosky was 35 when he rode his final wave.

It's hard to find a secluded surf break these days. But when it seems impossible to be alone and surf with your thoughts, magic happens.

Zimbabwe might be a landlocked country, but there's actually a very good wave for surfing here.