BRAZIL - For the average American, North or South, the idea of ducking low overpasses, dodging 3,300-volt electrical wires, and maintaining ones balance, all while atop a subway train moving over fifty miles per hour, offers little appeal. However, the average American lives in a world where the comforting feeling of safety and responsibility outweighs the thrill of danger. Not in his entire lifetime will the average man experience such intensity as felt in a normal day of those of braver character. The average American lives in fear, quivering behind the transparent shield of feeble rationalizations. The average American does not privilege the rare honor of being one of the Jinxed.
Isares Goncalves do Nascimento, better known as Indio, is not the average American. At the tender age of 13, he was already surfing the roofs of commuter trains bound for Rio de Janeiro. By the time he was 19 he had become a true surfista. While pinguentes, or hangers-on, cling to the side of the train below, surfistas stand on top, every muscle clenched to maintain the vital balance. Looking back on his first ride on the roof he says, Once the train really started rolling, it was the most exciting thing Id ever experienced. I was up there on top with my friends. The fresh air was smacking me in the face. It was the ultimate feeling of freedom. Thats when I got hooked.
While admiring his courage, one must wonder whether the addictive thrill Indio describes is worth the risk. In 1989 alone gruesome train surfing accidents killed 150 Brazilian kids and injured 170 more. Others were horribly killed in the United States. Sixteen year old Roberto Rodriguez of Dobbs Ferry, NY, died on May 31, 1994, after having been knocked off the No. 2 train near the 149th St. station in the Bronx. On July 15, 1996, a young man died a similar death when he hit a signal light and was hurled onto the tracks while subway surfing the No. 2 train.
Attempts to stop train surfing have proved ineffective. Brazillian fines or 75 cents for the first attempt, 85 cents for the second are minuscule beside the awesome thrill of the surf, and, as New York Mayor Rudolph W. Guiliani points out, There is no way you can protect a child who would choose to ride on top of a subway car. Indios mother Juaquina would probably agree. Although completely aware of her sons habit, she has found no method of prevention. Feeling little hope, she says, I cant believe my son is so stupid. Sooner or later, something will happen to him. It happens to all of them. They only stop surfing if they get badly injured -- or if they die.