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One-time subway "surfer" Isa Islam has a straightforward message for 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 smacked into a metal beam at an underground station in Brooklyn as he rode atop a subway car aged 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 of carriages on America's largest subway system have quadrupled in one year, according to newly released data.
Transport officials blame videos of youngsters performing the daredevil stunts on social media for causing copycat attempts.
The death of a 15-year-old boy last month, which followed that of another teenager in December, led police to warn the subway is "not a playground."
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Late at night in November 2013, Islam -- just days away from his 18th birthday -- and two cousins climbed atop a southbound F train.
As it came into the Fourth Avenue-Ninth Street station in Park Slope, Islam looked away momentarily before slamming straight into the beam.
He went 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 squirting hot sauce out of my scalp," Islam recalled.
The New Yorker was admitted to intensive care and spent six weeks in hospital. He underwent "numerous" surgeries and is now visually impaired.
Islam considers himself lucky to be alive but the reckless act is his great regret.
"If there is anybody in need of a time machine it is me," he said.
'Not a video game'
Riding outside of trains on New York's subway is illegal.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which runs the network, said reports of people traveling outside of cars -- including on top of and between carriages -- soared from 206 in 2021 to 928 in 2022.
MTA officials say viral videos of "surfing" youngsters posted on TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat and other sites in spring and summer last year caused the spike.
MTA chief Janno Lieber urged platforms to stop such clips from being posted.
"If they were running videos of people playing Russian roulette with live bullets, they would understand the consequences, and this is the equivalent for kids who are encouraged to do this by the glorification video," he told local radio recently.
A TikTok spokesperson told AFP the site "does not show videos of known dangerous behaviors in search results" and instead directs searches to guidelines which say such content is not allowed.
Snapchat says it "immediately removes" subway surfing videos if it becomes aware of them.
A spokesperson said the company's safety personnel met MTA officials in recent weeks "to discuss steps we can take to prevent the spread of this content."
The stunts also resemble the mobile game Subway Surfers, hugely popular among children, in which the user jumps on trains to escape an angry inspector after being caught doing graffiti.
Islam now warns about the dangers of subway surfing in his role as a motivational speaker for Breaking the Cycle, a nonprofit that urges people to overcome difficulties by choosing forgiveness.
"It's not a video game. 110 percent do not subway surf," he said.
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