Born in USA, metro surfing started to receive renewed attention when it became popular in Moscow, where cars would fill up and leave stragglers behind at the station. As long as they were willing and able to hang on to the back of the train. It’s kind of a grey area, considering the fine for getting caught is only 100 rubles. And if you happen to be wearing gloves and a warm hat, or an outfit that blends in with the train, discomfort and the risk of getting caught are lowered slightly.
It’s kind of like the new hitchhiking in our automated world of public transport. You can’t guarantee that you’ll get picked up, and, while it makes for a good story, there’s that chance that you’ll actually die in the process of holding on to whatever’s available. “I used to go for windshield wipers. There’s rarely anything better“, says Brittonie Fletcher from Edinburgh. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to hear more of her story or not. “First time I did it I was 14”, she continues. “I was terrified. But once I was holding on, it was so much fun”. I don’t count myself amongst the world’s overly careful masses, but something about barreling through a tube intended to provide a snug fit for the thing I’m hanging on to just doesn’t feel like it’d be good times.
As hip commenters online are quick to point out, metro surfing itself is nothing new. Even before many metro lines existed, truck and train hopping was far from unheard of. Hell, many garbage trucks are designed with spots for workers to hang on to. The scary development is that metro surfing has gone viral, and social sharing sites are adding fuel to this dangerous fire.
Documentation of these feats of stupidity has begun to pop up online, and bonus points are awarded for particularly extreme near-death experiences. Little communities are forming around these subcultural activities as members share their own efforts and cheer each other on.
Planking is another case in this category. Participants lie on something, holding their body and limbs in a rigid line, and get photographed. This is usually harmless fun, but not so for Acton Beale. He fell off a seventh-story balcony, to his death, for a funny picture. These silly groups highlight a serious flaw in the web 2.0 revolution.
When we explore the web now, we personalize it. We curate our inputs, separating wheat from chaff. We add friends on Facebook, follow interesting people on Twitter, and visit the websites we like. That makes sense, now that the internet has so much stuff, but it means that we’re filtering out everything else. The result has been called an echo chamber or, more recently, a filter bubble. Within these perfected environments, we are not exposed to new ideas or different opinions nearly as often as one would expect. Instead, a sort of digital bravado builds up, reinforcing concepts that are now erroneously overrepresented or, in the case of metro surfing, crazy.
Metro surfers are a particular breed of vagabond in my mind. They’re light-footed enough to jump on the back of a moving train, frugal enough to consider that a worthy travel option, and crazy enough to actually go for it. “I have never ‘planned’ to ride the back of a train in that fashion”, says Nick Schmalinski, who never plans to surf ahead of time. “I’ve only ever gotten a notion to get myself into some exciting trouble”. Trouble indeed. Two well-documented deaths occurred in February of this year when a couple of particularly daring university students decided to get on top of the train they were on.
So, next time you’re bored, fly a kite. Make a cup of tea. Buy a ticket and sit inside the train. If other metros around the world are anything like those in New York City, there’s always plenty of novelty to be had in eyeing up fellow riders. Let YouTube user Coret7‘s videos vicariously fulfill your need to push the envelope. Leave surfing for your trip to the coast – and I don’t mean on the way.