A user’s guide to crowd surfing

A user’s guide to crowd surfing

Photo credit and copyrights to Shane Collins & Gonzo Okanagan

There is an obsession to surfing a crowd. It draws someone like me to the pulsating throws of a punk rock show or to a huge festival.

When the conditions are right, you’ll see me climbing the shoulders, heads and hands of attendees.

I’ve spent a long time, and a lot of money, attending as many concerts as I could. I’ve surfed shows in small community halls to big arenas and wild outdoor events. I was surfing when someone stole the microphone from Mad Child at a festival and ran into the crowd with it, laughing. I’ve wiped out and eaten shit. I’ve been robbed. I’ve been groped. One time, I even made out with my girlfriend while crowd surfing.

I feel like I’ve been around long enough to share some insight on how to surf like a pro when you get to your show, so follow along.

DISCLAIMER: Crowd Surfing can be dangerous, so when you surf, remember: there is no lifeguard on duty. Surf at your own risk.

Know the Venue

There are places to surf waves along a shoreline and there are places not to. Crowd Surfing is no different.

Venues who seat their attendees in chairs, for example, will not have a crowd to surf unless that venue can take the chairs away. Obstacles of the venue will vary. Just like surfing in water, surfing a crowd will come with dangers. So when you get back to seeing live music, take a look around and see if the venue will have too small of a dance floor or too low of a ceiling. Is there security? Can they help you at the front? Will you be allowed to return to the show once they do?

Knowing the venue will help you read the terrain before heading out into the surf.

Respect the Water

When I’m looking at the show, I’m looking for a packed venue, where ‘pit-falls’ are less likely to form. So, when I begin my ‘approach’ I try to be respectful to everyone. I weave my way through the crowd standing further back. Most folks don’t get into the mosh pit. Most hang back so respect those folks enjoying the show. Smile. Say hello as you pass. I tap shoulders and alert people of my presence so they know I’m trying to get by them. When I’m surfing, I try to pump people up by being a source of excitement. I do the same to the band. I make eye contact and I point to them and I scream along to the words if I know them or I give big fist pumps and smiles if I don’t.

Respect the security once you reach the front. Let them take you from the crowd. Don’t dive feet down. You can kick people in the face doing that. Instead, widen yourself out, arms and legs stretched apart so more people can keep you up. Don’t stay in one spot for too long. Roll around a little.

Watch R.E.M’s video, Drive, for an example of how to let a crowd carry you. Most of all, respect the show and be positive while you’re up there. 

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-UE7tXDKIus[/embedyt]

Empty Your Pockets

There are fewer things in life more frustrating than losing your car keys, wallet or phone after going to a show. If you’re going to a concert and there’s a chance you’re going to go for a surf, empty your pockets. 


If you’re going to surf, you’re going to have hands where they shouldn’t be. It’s a part of the experience, but I’m also a dude and haven’t experienced this activity from a female’s perspective.

I’ve seen lude groping that isn’t consensual and is straight up inappropriate, so be aware that hands will find your privates. That’s why I say roll around and don’t stay in one spot too long. If anyone is being inappropriate I suggest rolling side to side and get away from that part of the crowd all together. Alert security of that area so they are aware of the misconduct.


While surfing, holes will open up. Even on the sides of the crowd, what I call the ‘shoulders’ of the show. They just appear and this happens when the crowd isn’t packed in tight so I look for tightly packed areas. That’s usually the best spot. Stay away from the center. That’s where spinning death wheels of intense, often violent ‘slam dancing’ take place. If a surfer gets sucked into that, it’s bad news bears all around. 

How to Get Onto the Crowd

I often look for the big guys in the scrum to ask for a lift. What I like to do is approach a group of big fellas, I tap their shoulder and when they look at me I smile and I point to the sky. I lift my eyebrows. Nine times out of ten he, and those surrounding him, give me a lift up. Ask for a lift. It’s the best way to catch a wave. 

Photo by lifesimply.rocks on Unsplash

Have Fun

When you’re at a show, you’re there to let loose. If you’re surfing, you’re at an event where surfing lives. If anyone has a problem with crowd surfing, maybe they should be up in the seats watching while eating popcorn.

Surfing a crowd is not for those who stand back or sit down. No, this is for those who want to be in the center of it all. Who wants to feel the show, not just witness it. So have fun. Be animated, encourage the crowd, respect your fellow attendee, help pump everyone up, smile and enjoy the ride. 

My first surf and why I love it, by Shane Collins

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The Okanagan’s been my home since I was born. Life has taken me across the planet several times and through that transient lifestyle I developed a journalistic style to my photography and to my writing. My influences would be that of James Nachtwey, Annie Lebovitz, Ashley Maile, Hunter S Thompson, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Tom Robbins, Wes Anderson and Charles Bukowski. The world outside this incredible valley, its cultures and its mystery is what’s kept me working and trying to save my money, so I can keep getting back into the world. That’s the way it used to be. Covid has opened my eyes to the land I call my home and there are so many tales to tell right here in BC. From tales of the impoverished to the neglected to those who overcome adversity, to the spirit to overcome fear, the power of storytelling has never been more relevant. I’ve always been a storyteller. There’s a tale worth telling in every neighborhood. I just happen to write about what happens to me along the way and I’ve kept them close to my heart, hoping one day I’ll have an outlet so I can tell those stories the best way I know how; by writing them down. From adventures of long ago, both here or maybe far away, future interviews with musicians, artists of all kinds, the coverage of events, the people I meet along the way, whatever I get up to I intend to have you as my guest as I go back in time and dig up the bones of those old adventures or chase down new ones. Through the alchemy of storytelling, you can come along with me if you like. Before Covid-19 I was really coming into my own photographing live shows; punk rock bands, hip hop showcases, tattoo portraits, rock climbing adventures, Femme Fatale burlesque performances you name it, the phone was finally beginning to ring. Then Covid showed up like a hurricane and I guess it wiped us all out in one way or another. I have a real bone to pick with Covid-19 and if I can share some stories for our readers to enjoy, I’ll do that and when we can return to live music and to foreign travel and we can safely get to working on mending what’s been damaged I tell you I want to be ringside like Joe Rogan commentating on Covid getting its ass whooped. I want to see it tap out and watch us overcome this hardship, raise our collective hands triumphantly and move on into whatever new normal is waiting for us. I’ll be there and through my eyes, just like the boss man, Hunter himself, I’ll do it in Gonzo fashion and bring you kicking and screaming along with me. So hold on tight and dig in. It might not always be pretty but I won’t call it all ugly, neither. That’s for you to decide. My name is Shane Collins and I hope you’ll read along with me and our team here at Gonzookanagan.com


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