He’s been called an “idiot” and a “reckless adrenaline junkie” whose sky-high stunts have him knocking on death's door. Now, the man who claims to be one of the people seen “surfing” on the roof of a moving subway train in Toronto is speaking out about his stunts and the looming threat of a police arrest.
After communicating with CTV News via direct messages for weeks, the young man behind a shocking Canada Day video that made headlines across the country agreed to an exclusive interview.
During our online conversations he made his feelings about the press clear, telling me: “I don’t speak to the media.” That is, until now. After multiple messages he recently agreed to meet near a busy downtown Toronto intersection.
His real name remains a mystery, although he asked that I call him Chase, a name that plays off his social media moniker (his Instagram handle is @thechase.TO) He arrived for our meeting wearing a suit and tie, while donning a full black face mask with a white skull painted on the front and two holes cut out for his eyes. Perplexed passersby stopped and stared as we walked along Yonge Street towards our interview location.
When asked why he feels the need to show up wearing a mask, Chase was quick to point out that anonymity is essential to him. “None of this would happen if I wasn’t anonymous.”
The masked man said he is in his early 20s and he’s Canadian. That’s the only personal information he’s willing to divulge. He has reason to be wary, though. On Canada Day weekend Chase posted a shocking video of himself and at least one other person “train surfing” on top of a rapid transit train in the north end of Toronto, resulting in an official investigation being launched into the individuals behind the stunt.
The Toronto Transit Commission tells CTV News it has handed off its investigation to the Toronto Police Service, who confirm a detective has been assigned to the case, which is still in its early stages. Chase agreed to speak with CTV News while also aware that the authorities are looking for him. He said his message to the TTC is: “it's nothing personal.”
Chase claims to have climbed and traversed across cranes, trains and rooftop ledges without a safety harness in various places across Canada, as well as a dozen other countries.
A video posted on his YouTube page in January 2022 shows an individual climbing what is described as a Soviet cold war radar located in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. In the video you can hear someone with an accent warning that “it's dangerous” to climb. Chase admits that it’s a place “you’re really not supposed to go to.”
He said he’s part of what’s known globally as the “URBEX” community, an acronym used as an umbrella title for urban explorers. Some of them, like Chase, take stomach-turning footage of themselves free climbing sky-high structures around the world, and then edit their videos and post them on social media for all to see.
'THESE ARE MY RISKS'
Chase said he started doing that about seven years ago when, as a teenager, a close friend took him up to the roof of a school. Since then he’s been climbing higher and higher, even as the ever present danger increases. He said that he comes from a rock climbing background. CTV News asked him if he’s concerned that a copycat might see his videos and then go and try something similar.
“I’ve seen a couple copycats and it makes me quite worried,” he said. “I’m in no way shape or form encouraging anybody to re-enact or attempt the activities that I undertake. These are my risks, I know the stakes, but I’m making my own independent decision here and I strongly discourage anybody from copying it."
When asked if he’s fearful of dying, Chase paused before answering, “sometimes, but not often.”
“Of course there’s an element of risk to what we do, but we take it anyways because the experiences on the other side, it's like opening a door to a new world,” he said.
However, that new world has claimed the lives of other building climbers and subway tunnel explorers. Chase said he’s been somewhat fortunate, only noting one experience that truly frightened him while climbing a crane in Paris, France.
“I was on this crane in Paris and I’m climbing up and I realize the whole thing is soaking wet, and I’m at the halfway point and getting down happens to be a lot harder than getting up. At that point I did feel fear.”
Digital storytelling professor Richard Lachman at Toronto Metropolitan University believes the camera-clutching daredevils involved in these stunts aren't just after the 'likes' on their social media pages, but for the pay day that comes with soaring page views. “For a few accounts it can be very lucrative, but I would point out that there have been some very famous accounts that do this professionally and they still have died,” Lachman noted.
Chase bristled at the notion. While he admitted that some of his peers do chase dollar signs, he claimed that all of his YouTube videos are demonetized. “That’s intentional, I don’t make a dime from this.”
Instead, the young man said he’s trying to flip the negative narrative around his stunts by launching a fundraiser through his social media accounts for the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Chase hopes to raise $10,000 and said he’s trying to use his notoriety to, in part, help people realize that “we’re not just a bunch of thrill seekers, we are not a bunch of hot-head, idiot teenagers as we’re always spelled out to be.” He said he wishes “to channel as much of this attention, that my missions and stunts may attract as much good as humanly possible.”
The CMHA confirmed that it has approved Chase’s fundraising campaign. While Chase doesn’t encourage people to take the risks he does, a spokesperson for the CMHA told CTV News, “we understand that some people may be tempted to. We ask that they not do so.”
CTV News asked Chase if he’s concerned about being arrested by police. He declined to answer our question, though he did note that he feels the heat from authorities every time he posts a new video -- but that isn’t going to stop him.
As our interview came to a close, the masked roof-topper said “the only consistent thing in my life has been climbing buildings, and I’d like to keep doing it until I die.”
He then walked off into Toronto’s concrete jungle still wearing his skull mask, his anonymity intact.
Watch the full interview with Chase on CTV National News Tuesday night at 10 and 11 p.m. EDT.