Imagine this: You’re near the barricade of a concert, right in front of the stage, watching your favorite band play the rowdiest song of the night. You’re having a great time jumping around with your friends and singing the lyrics, until someone from the crowd jumps onstage. Suddenly, you have a face full of Vans awkwardly pulling your hair until all of the strength in your body forces the person onto the poor soul next to you.
And just like that, the concertgoers that always cause some kind of unwanted discomfort strike again: crowd surfers.
Crowd surfing has been around for almost 50 years in the communities of any edgy genre you can think of — rock, punk, metal, ska, post-hardcore and the like. If you’ve ever been toward the front of the crowd at one of those concerts, you’ve probably been kicked in the head by more than a few pairs of Dr. Martens. Can confirm: It doesn’t feel nice.
In 2014, Vans Warped Tour, which created a place for these genres to congregate, attempted to ban crowd surfing and moshing from the festival. Every year since then, signs could be seen around the stages saying, “You Mosh, You Crowd Surf, You Get Hurt, We Get Sued, No More Warped Tour.” This message was clear around the festival grounds but was not enforced — the crowd surfing continued.
Music festivals are hotbeds for crowd surfing, featuring packed crowds and often taking place outdoors. This platform leads to some of the worst kinds of concert injuries. This last May, a crowd surfer broke his neck at the Welcome to Rockville music festival in Jacksonville, Florida.
There aren’t many statistics on how often people get hurt or how likely it is to get hurt from crowd surfing, but a study done in 2000 during a three-day music festival in England showed 43 instances of injury by crowd surfing. The National Health Service Trust in the U.K., the conductors of the study, recorded the incident each time someone visited the medical base. One of the survivors was “crushed in the crowd” and brought back to the base “hyperventilating but with no obvious injury,” the report said.
But crowd surfers can deal with much more than bruising and heavy breathing. In some cases, the damages are linked to sprains and whiplash from being dropped by the crowd, as physiotherapist Sammy Margo told BBC News. Being dropped and heading straight to the ground is a common risk for crowd surfers, but they’re not the only ones put in harm’s way.
Of those 43 injury cases at the music festival in England, 60 percent of those injured were not the ones crowd surfing — they were the ones getting surfed on.
On Nov. 18, Mom Jeans. played at Cornerstone here in Berkeley to a sold-out crowd. One member of the audience was a 23-year-old crowd surfer by the name of Jakeh Bode, who felt more than regretful after flipping into the audience in a wild stage dive.
“(After I landed) I flipped (my shirt) inside out and went and bought another shirt to cover myself so I didn’t look like the biggest douchebag at the show,” Bode said of the experience. “I was, and I fully admit it. It makes me feel really bad because I took no one else into consideration but myself, but I also had a lot of fun.”
Bode is an experienced crowd surfer who said crowd surfing makes him feel less lonely and more supported by a community, regardless of the stitches the surfing has caused him in the past. “When I hit the crowd, I feel amazing,” he said. “But when I hit the floor, because I usually do stupid shit, I feel really bad.”
After the show, Mom Jeans. bassist Gabriel Paganin shared his two cents about the concept of crowd surfing from the perspective of the performer: “The thing about crowd surfing is, just like everything, it has its positive and negative sides,” Paganin said. “It brings up the energy of the show a lot, which is great. It makes it feel like an event, like something wild is happening. … It’s that aspect of everybody contributing to make something happen, multiple people holding up the crowd surfer.”
He continued: “Now, the issue is when people don’t do it with proper etiquette, such as doing the flips onto the crowd, which I specifically called out during (the) set because it’s very, very easy for people to get hurt from it.”
In all fairness, yes, there are right and wrong ways to crowd surf. Make sure you’re not wearing heavy shoes or sharp clothing or pointy jewelry. It all hurts.
If you’re going to crowd surf, make sure you’re trying to be considerate of those around you. No flips, no trying to get recognized by the band members, no being super obnoxious before the final descent. As Bode said, “Don’t be a douchebag.”
Crowd surfing helps people find a sense of community and feel a deeper connection to the music. But, please don’t do it at the expense of those trying to have just as good of a time as you. Be reminded: You’re still the worst, but if you crowd surf the right way, you’ll have someone to carry you along for the ride.