Train Surfers

When there is no swell in the Cape, why not go for a little train surfing session with the brasse? It is one of the most popular pastimes in the Soweto region and has claimed the lives of many young riders.

When there is no swell in the Cape, why not go for a little train surfing session with the brasse? It is one of the most popular pastimes in the Soweto region and has claimed the lives of many young riders. Local kids are passionate about the obscure sport and it earns them respect within the community of electric riders.

Tshepiso Ntohla, aka Mzembe, is 18 years old – and he loves surfing the Soweto trains. He knows it’s dangerous but the thrill keeps drawing him back to perform perilous stunts on moving trains to the cheers of his peers. Sporting a fancy cap and occasionally sipping a beer, Ntohla says he began surfing trains, or ukudlala istaff, when he was very young. He started with the most common surfing stunt, which involves jumping off a moving train and jumping back on board again.

“No-one taught me to surf. I just observed what some of the bigger boys were doing and copied. But I started serious surfing in 2000 when I began doing daring stunts,” he says, throwing a pompous glance at his fellow practitioners, 24-year-old Nkosinami Mazibuko and Zanele Masinda.

There are different ways of surfing the train besides jumping on and off, says Ntohla. The most dangerous is hanging precariously from the bottom of a moving train with the steel wheels and the rails only a few centimetres away. Another suicidal stunt involves climbing on to the roofs of coaches and dodging high-voltage cables, pylons and bridges. “I love doing the viva la raza, standing on top and shaking my shoulders like Eddie Guerrero, the wrestler, and watching cables and pylons zip past my face at a break-neck speed,” he boasts.

But it’s a dangerous past-time and several youngsters have died while train surfing. Ntohla replies: “Yes, it is dangerous, and sometimes I have felt a choking fear grip me, especially when I am surfing under the train. But there is no space for fear in this game and one has to shrug the feeling off.”

Kelly Slater has shit on these guys!

A scar runs from Ntohla’s right eye to the centre of his forehead, telling the tale of an accident some months back when he was surfing a train from Naledi to Johannesburg. He displays it with pride, saying the incident did not dent his passion.

“I do it for my pride, for the girls and for fun. Sometimes girls cheer us on and tell us they will come and eat salads at our funerals. But I am not scared of death … A few months back during the security guards’ strike, a boy living three houses away died surfing a train. He was young and inexperienced. His name was Lwazi but his death has not deterred us even a little bit.”

At Lwazi’s funeral, his fellow surfers performed stunts on top of the buses carrying mourners to Avalon Cemetery in Soweto as a farewell gesture. The surfers’ favourite train is Number 9323. “It is convenient to surf this train because it is always moving fast with very few delays and it is always packed,” says Ntohla, who adds that the past-time originated in Mzimhlophe, a township in Soweto.

And the “stars” have given themselves fancy nicknames, like Bitch Nigga, Bin Laden, Mrider and Sisqo. There are also two kinds of surfers, the “cheeseboys” and the “mvonqas”. “The cheeseboys surf for fun while the mvonqas surf to get away from the guards after stealing bags or cellphones from commuters. I am a cheeseboy,” Ntohla says smugly.

Sometimes surfers are caught by the security guards, who beat them up. “Sometimes they make us do gym exercises.”

Tshepiso Ntohla, aka Mzembe.

If you think the guys in South Africa are deep have a look at the video below, because this crazy German Extreme Trainsurfer rides trains which are 3 times faster than the age old Metrorail trains we utilise!

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