Exactly one week ago, a teenager riding on top of a NYC subway car died after falling off and coming into contact with the third rail. According to news reports, he was pronounced dead on the scene. His name was Ka’Von Wooden and the 15-year-old was reportedly “subway surfing” a Brooklyn-bound J train as it was approaching Marcy Avenue on the Williamsburg Bridge, when he lost his footing.
Well known in the transit community, he went by the handle “transitphotographerkavon” on Instagram, and was quite knowledgeable about all things transit. On his page, he mostly posted photos of buses and subway cars by their specific classifications. In one caption, Ka’Von cleverly explained the “(W)eirdest Reroute,” noting how unusual it was for an “R46 W [train]” to travel “via the N/R lines to Bay Ridge-95th.” He spoke the type of inside-baseball about the transit system that you typically find on railfan forums that are run by adults.
Over the past two years, subway surfing has become increasingly popular with countless viral videos popping up on social media, showing kids not only riding the trains, but also running up and down them like stuntmen in a Hollywood movie. In some clips, there are over a dozen on top at a time. It’s the type of thing that even people who were born and bred in NYC, have never seen before. The snippets are both fascinating and horrifying to watch. Out of all the crazy shit the youth are doing and uploading videos of, subway surfing is by far, the most jarring, and lethal. A 15-year-old lost his arm after falling off a train in Queens in late August, and in October of 2021, a man died while also riding the J over the bridge.
In an interview with the Daily News, Ka’Von’s mother, Y’Vonda Maxwell, told the paper: “It’s not something he would do on his own. He was a kid on the spectrum. He got in on the wrong crowd. He was bullied because he was autistic.” It’s a sentiment that was echoed by a peer who says he knew Ka’Von in a video to YouTube claiming the teen was coerced, although he also admits that the teen surfed before and “would do it, on his own, willingly.” Several commenters who are active in the daredevil wing of the tc (transit community) have pushed back on the bullying narrative, and while offering their condolences to the family, say that Ka’Von was an avid surfer who genuinely enjoyed the thrill.
After viewing a few remembrance videos on IG Stories of a smiling Ka’Von surfing trains from months ago, I reached out to the person who posted it to get a fuller picture, and to see how the tragedy has affected him and his friends. Vien told me that several of the dudes in the crew were calling it quits, but he still hasn’t made up his mind, yet. He then put me in touch with others who knew Ka’Von firsthand and I asked all of them two questions:
1). What will you miss most about Ka’Von?
2.) Why are you done with subway surfing?
“The thing I’ll mostly miss about Ka’Von is how nice he was. The kid never cursed or anything, he never disrespected anybody and was close to basically everyone who knew him.
The reason why I stopped subway surfing is because we don’t wanna lose our lives over that. Since September [we agreed not to surf], but Kavon decided to do it again at Williamsburg Bridge and it all just happened in a blink.” —Will
“One thing I would miss about Ka’Von is him always being there for me and always checking up on me.
I’m done with surfing because it’s boring now, and it causes many problems.” —Karo
“I’mma a miss him as a person in general. He was a kind-hearted person and just someone who was fascinated with trains. We were his only real friends, so that’s the reason he use to hang out with us. Some rail fanners would bully him cause he had “autism,” so when he was around us, he felt like himself and acted like himself. He made sure everyone around him was smiling and everyone was chilling. He didn’t cause any trouble and just enjoyed being with us in general. He never really did anything bad and it’s sad to see how he went out, but i mean that’s the risk you take when you surf. I was kind of shocked when I found out, ‘cause he was never really the person to top surf. During the big event, he didn’t even surf, he was just in the back of the train messing with it ‘cause he was just a kid who was fascinated with trains.
There is no longer that rush anymore—that’s the only reason we did it, because of that adrenaline rush we got from doing it and when that was gone, we just found other ways to get it through the tunnels and graffiti. I mean some other people are still gonna stay surfing even though they said they “quit” because they are addicted to that adrenaline rush and they don’t really care about the risk of losing their life. That’s how everyone was, we didn’t really care about the risk and thought it would never happen to us even though prior incidents that happened due to surfing, but this one hit home because he was a close friend to us, and it just opened our eyes of how this can happen to any of us.” —Kadeen
“Ka’Von was one of the sweetest and most charming member of our crew and Imma miss everything about him.
After this horrifying incident I’ve decided to quit surfing. I’m not entirely sure if I’ll be making a comeback.” —Vien