Crowd surfing: is it safe?

Crowd surfing has become increasingly popular at music festivals, but it can cause serious injury.

Crowd surfing 
Being passed around above the crowd's heads, with everyone's hands supporting the surfer's weight.

Stage diving Launching yourself from the stage and hoping the crowd will catch you and let you crowd surf.

Shoving and pushing people in the area in front of the stage (the mosh pit).

Headbanging Violently rocking your head back and forth to loud music, usually heavy metal.

Circle pit
Violent, frenetic dancing by people running in a circle, usually at rock music gigs.

For some people, crowd surfing, moshing and stage diving are part of the culture of the music scene and they accept the risks. For others, it's dangerous and antisocial, and it can cause serious injury both to the crowd surfer and the people below.

A study by Airedale NHS Trust at a three-day music festival in August 2000, with 60,000 people a day attending, recorded 43 crowd surfing injuries.

The study, Crowd surfing – Who is at risk? (PDF, 89kb), found that 60% of the injuries (26 out of 43) were to people in the crowd rather than the surfers (17 out of 43).

Injuries to crowd members were mainly to the head and neck. The surfers suffered mostly head and neck sprains and lower limb injuries.

Concern over injuries and even deaths at some events has led to some festival organisers banning crowd surfing and stage diving.

Chartered physiotherapist Sammy Margo says crowd surfing injuries mostly happen when the surfer is not supported properly above the crowd and falls awkwardly to the ground.

"If you get dropped you can get whiplash-type injuries, which will result in muscle spasms in the neck and lower back, and with associated bruising," she says.

Apart from physical injury, crowd surfers also run the risk of having their pockets picked, clothes torn and footwear lost.

"It's not uncommon for female crowd surfers to get groped by male members in the crowd below," says Margo.

Margo, who has experience of treating injuries at music concerts, says crowd surfers should follow a code of conduct to minimise the risks for all concerned.

"We don't recommend crowd surfing, moshing or headbanging," says Margo. "But if you have to do it, take some precautions."

Margo's crowd surfing code of conduct:

  • wear clothes that don't have sharp edges such as zips or studs – wear soft shoes, such as trainers, rather than heavy footwear
  • don't have any valuables on you, including your wallet, mobile phone or jewellery, as they can fall out or be stolen
  • avoid wearing piercings, earrings or chains as they can easily get caught on clothing and be ripped off
  • try to relax into crowd surfing – you'll be easier to handle for the crowd passing you around

"If you are accidentally dropped, try to relax into the fall instead of tensing up," says Margo. "You'll be more supple and less likely to fall awkwardly and injure yourself."

The mosh pit

Moshing and headbanging are both popular activities at rock concerts, but they can cause serious injuries.

Moshing – shoving and pushing people in the pit (the area in front of the stage) – can get violent. Injuries range from bruising and knocks to the head, to concussion and whiplash.

The risks of headbanging (violently rocking your head back and forth to loud music) were highlighted in a recent Australian study published in the British Medical Journal.

The Australian researchers found that headbanging not only caused long-term head and neck pain, it could also lead to "mild traumatic brain injury".

Margo's mosh pit etiquette:

  • expect your clothes to get ripped and don't wear anything that you don't want to get damaged
  • remove jewellery and piercings so that they can't get ripped off in the mayhem
  • don't wear shoes with heels, studs or steel caps as they can inflict serious pain 
  • keep your arms by your side to avoid punching someone as you get shoved from person to person
  • observe the moshing before you join in – it may be more violent than you expected.
  • for a safer alternative, try moshing in a crowd of friends

"Crowd surfing, moshing and headbanging can feel like an extreme sport if you consider the types of injuries suffered," says Margo.

Page last reviewed: 05/05/2015

Next review due: 05/05/2017


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