The Taste of Fear

Subway Surfers Risk Their Lives Atop the City’s Trains. Only Mad Fools Take the Dare. Only the Lucky Survive.

Nadav says he rarely thought much about the risks. He was a kid from a strife-ridden home life who spent nearly every waking hour on the streets. "The element of death was always there," he says. "We were young, and life wasn't that valuable to us. But I don't know. It was like divine intervention or something. So many times we would have close calls."

In 1993, one of the core members of the crew, 15-year-old Eric Suarez, whose tag was Phyn, was killed while bombing in the Union Street station on the N line. He was crossing the tracks to reach an incoming train when a work train struck him.

"At a point it stopped us and then maybe a year after that it was our inspiration to keep going," says Joey Lucenti, who says he makes the sign of the cross whenever he passes through Union Street "even though I am an atheist."

"He basically died for us," says Nadav. "For us and for our crew. For fame for us. And it's like, we're just gonna let all that get painted over?"

The crew laid off for a while, then picked up again, even fighting with other graffiti writers who tried to paint over their dead friend's work. And they got back up on the trains.

In all, about 30 people rode the tops of subways with CGB at some point during the five years of the crew's peak. No one was ever arrested or injured while surfing. But plenty of people did it only once. "We brought a girl up on the train one time," says Joey Lucenti. "The reason for her never returning is she almost slipped." New riders were always paired with an experienced surfer, who would coach them through.

Nadav estimates that 70 percent of their surfing was strictly for fun, with the other 30 percent involving some kind of graffiti work. "I'd say maybe three to four nights a week it would be the B line and one night a week the F line," he says. "We would do that so we got more familiar with those neighborhoods, so if we ever got chased we would know where to go. We knew what stop was coming up next. We would recite it in our head. OK, this stop, this stop, and then this stop is coming up. We never had to look at the map. We knew which stations were by the main avenues and even how far the police stations were. It was all a calculated-plan thing."

They say they rarely surfed while high and never dreamed of risking a ride in an underground tunnel. As they got more experienced, they had no qualms about riding during the height of rush hour. They would run on top of trains and even jump between cars. Once Lenny Lucenti nearly fell to the tracks when he misjudged the length of his leap. Another time Nadav slipped on a piece of paper stuck to a train's roof, avoiding injury only because he dropped directly backward onto the car.

By 1997 they started to drift away from the active graffiti scene. Now they say they are living resolutely aboveboard, except for a regular indulgence in marijuana. Nadav, hoping to avoid trouble lurking in the city, lives upstate, where he works construction, teaches dance classes, and is attempting to kick-start a Web design business. Both of the Lucenti brothers, still in Brooklyn, work as counselors to mentally disabled adults, "believe it or not," says Joey, who is also, believe it or not, a licensed security guard. Their dream is to make it in the entertainment world. Joey spends his offtime as an MC, Lenny as a DJ.

When they talk about their surfing days, they rarely dwell on the danger of it, emphasizing instead the ballsiness of the experience. Still, when the subject of the deaths of Quinn and Hammerstone comes up, they express sadness about the loss, speaking in quieter tones. The Lucentis, who knew Hammerstone slightly, never understood him to be a surfer. They saw him as someone who was just beginning in graffiti, too young even to worry about being arrested by the police. Joey thinks that if he had "preached to him not to do it, maybe I could've made a difference," but he adds that he didn't know the boy to be in danger.

"Just because I jump off the bridge doesn't mean they have to jump off the bridge," offers Nadav. The deaths, he says, do not weigh on his conscience.

At Cory's wake, Joey was one of many graffiti writers who packed the room to pay their respects. "It was sad," he notes, speaking slowly. "A lot of people, a lot of people crying. He looked up to us, so I felt really bad." After a pause, he adds, "May they both rest in peace."

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