H2O stage-diver at London gig
Crowd-surfing,  Gigs,  Stage-diving

Hard Promises

Fitness goals: the hard promises of New Year’s resolutions. A dedicated gig-goer’s interpretation of this might be to tone up for the delicate art of stage-diving and crowd-surfing.

Stage-diving [definition] – where the stage is the diving board and the audience is the water. The idea is not to hit the floor with your head but to throw yourself off the stage and land fully on the hands of the audience in order to crowd-surf (see below). If you are very brave, you may wish to jump backwards, where you can’t see who you’re falling on (sometimes women also choose this for reasons of anatomy). The most important thing is to check that there is a density of crowd able to take your weight before you jump. Otherwise this is just called Falling Off A Stage.

Crowd-surfing [definition] – where the crowd is (once again, in watery analogy) the wave in real surfing. The ‘surf-ee’ is held aloft on the hands of the crowd and travels hither and thither over their heads, until they mutually agree their arms ache and the person is (more or less) carefully placed back on the ground. Warning! Never expect to disembark where you started – you will have to find your own way back to your friends. There is no specified destination on Ticket Crowdsurf. The only exception to this is when a member of the band, usually (but not always) the singer, decides to crowd-surf. In this case, it is common courtesy for the audience to deposit them back on the stage to continue with the show.

Be warned, the inception of these two acrobatic manoeuvres may not be straightforward. In a smaller club gig, with no barriers between band and audience, getting to the stage to kick off a dive is not too obstacle-strewn. But at a much bigger show, there are significant hurdles. Firstly, you may be a football field’s length away from the stage and navigating a tightly packed dancing throng over this distance is no mean feat. If you do make it to the front, you’ll need to defeat multiple muscular security guards and vault over a wide pit (used by photographers) that runs from the stage edge to the crowd barrier. Good luck!

However, abandoning the initial dive, it is still possible to crowd-surf directly from where you were, even if you are hundreds of people away from the stage. You just need at least one person willing to help hoist you up so you can scramble over everyone’s heads. The main risk here is that gig-goers this far back may not have signed up to such frenetic ‘front of the gig’ action and may well object (i.e. drop you).

These acrobatic anomalies of gig-going come with some risks, one being the loss of footwear or items of clothing. My partner regularly leaves gigs one shoe down. On one miraculous occasion I found the shoe and returned it to him – only for him to lose the other one a few crowd-surfing songs later. We had to get back from that festival with just one red Converse and a bit of a limp. The lesson here is not to wear anything that you can’t bear to lose if taking to the air is on the cards.

Some people, of course, have never been at the front of a gig and are currently frowning and shaking their heads in disbelief. There’s nothing wrong with hanging out at the back – lots more space to dance, little chance of being pushed around or having a boot hit your head or losing your friends or (horror) your pint. My sister has spent the majority of her gig-going life at the back of shows happily holding the coats. (It’s saved me a fortune in cloakroom fees.) It’s all personal preference.

Maybe we could all work on our arm strength until gigs return – whether we’re going to be brandishing someone aloft, breaking a faster-than-expected return to ground level or just holding the coats, one thing I can promise you is that we’re in it together…

Photo: Stage-diving/crowd-surfing – a triumphant move for the successful aerial gig-goer or The Gentle Art of Making Enemies if attempted with a resistant or unsuspecting crowd. The image shows a trusting stage-diver at US punk band H2O’s gig in London, in 2009. © Imelda Michalczyk.


  • Marc

    My favourite sport! I miss this so much, especially at a The Bronx show, I bet it’s at the bottom of the list of what is coming back on the life menu.
    With enough practice you can manage to control where the wave can take you, convenient when you fancy a shortcut to the bar, or if a return toward the stage/pit contains substantial risks of show expulsion haha. The landing always contains its risk of sudden absence of support of your upper half while your arms are somehow still held, resulting in the floor quickly travelling towards your head.
    I did lose a few shoes..

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