Young urban explorers go to dizzying heights, dark depths to see New York in a different way - Metro US

Young urban explorers go to dizzying heights, dark depths to see New York in a different way

Many New Yorkers scurry through this great city of ours with nary a thought about its history, the buildings towering above them or the web of subway tunnels below them — unless, of course, they’re facing whatever that day’s commuting issue may be in the latter.

But for a group of teens from Queens who call themselves Scout Legion, these things are always in their minds as they leap from tall buildings, traipse through subway tunnels and find themselves at home in long-abandoned places.

The nine-member Scout Legion is a group of urban explorers who are still in high school, go by nicknames and are only ever seen wearing masks to hide their identities. Their hobby, which takes them to dizzying heights such as a crane high above Times Square, can easily be seen on Instagram and, for all intents and purposes, can be classified as trespassing.

But what drives this masked ensemble is not just the thrill of evading authorities, which happens on occasion, or going where few have gone before.

“The biggest thing is the history, it’s like jumping into an old picture. What can you find?” founding member Ninja said. “I’d never seen a typewriter, now I’ve seen a bunch. You wonder how everything got there. Our main thing is showing others what they can’t see.”

Though another founder, Dr. Kidd, does like the excitement and risks that come with urban exploration, he, too, enjoys what Scout Legion sees on its jaunts the most.

“I love seeing the old architecture and machinery and buildings broken down, picturing how it used to be,” he said.

A few months ago, the group visited the historic Beth Hamedrash Hagodol synagogue on the Lower East Side, which had been abandoned since closing in 2007 and burned down May 14. Three days later, a 14-year-old was arrested and charged with third-degree arson.

“It made us pretty mad because people like that are completely opposite from people like us,” Ninja said. “They just go in and destroy — we go in and cherish.”

On excursions, each member of Scout Legion shares the weight of equipment for the group, which usually consists of several types of cameras, tablets for editing and uploading photos, tripods and their masks.

They also come armed with another piece of valuable gear: their bodies, as each member uses parkour, the sport of traversing obstacles by running, climbing or leaping, to explore. 

“It helps with everything,” Ninja said. “Most of these places are broken down and there might not be stairs to climb, or they’re under construction. We might have to make a makeshift ladder or use each other as catapults to get somewhere.”

What do their parents think?

As the members of Scout Legion are still fairly young — Ninja is 17 and Dr. Kidd is 18 — Metro couldn’t help but ask what their parents think about their dangerous hobby, like that time Ninja’s tripod accidentally touched the third rail in a subway tunnel, exploded in his face, embedded metal in his pants leg and left him “partially blinded for a second because of the flash.”

“My mom is fine with it,” Dr. Kidd said. “Even if she wasn’t, I’m an adult now.”

Ninja said it was hard convincing his parents at first, “but they’re really open about it.” His father even joined them on a trip to an abandoned bank. “They want me to come home, it doesn’t matter if I lose a limb,” he added with a laugh. “I try to be really safe and keep everyone else safe.”

What happens if they’re caught?

While safety — and remaining fairly undetected — is a priority, Scout Legion has had run-ins with authorities. Ninja mentioned a time at an abandoned hospital in Queens when his crew was caught, but he was able to hide on the roof for two hours until the coast was clear. Dr. Kidd recalled being kicked off a Long Island City roof after a silent alarm alerted security.

“The NYPD patrols all bridges, tunnels and subway stations. Those caught entering subway tunnels are subject to arrest,” the NYPD told Metro when asked about its approach to urban explorers. “Those who enter construction sites, which are subject to private security, are subject to arrest for trespass.”

As for the future, both Ninja and Dr. Kidd plan to study mechanical engineering or robotics at a local community college this fall. Being that they’re still so young, there’s more than enough time to decide what path that schooling will take them on, after all, there is a whole city under and above them still left to explore — and share with the rest of us.

Visit instagram.com/scoutlegionnyc for more info.

A portion of this interview first appeared on the “High Regard Show,” a weekly arts and entertainment podcast Nikki M. Mascali co-hosts with Tom Roarty. Visit highregardshow.com to hear the entire interview.

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