To catch a surfer?

As summer festivals see a rise in the need for front of stage staff across the country, a question has been asked of me a couple of times, “ What is the best way to catch crowd surfers? To get up on the step and lift them off, or, let them fall into your arms whilst standing on the ground?”.

An interesting question and one that many disagree on and will never agree on.

Quick answer – who cares, just don’t drop them.

Break down of  suggested response.

 

Version 1 – Let them fall into your arms.

 

Pick a spot in front of the surfer, wait till they get to the edge, put arms up towards head and shoulders and drag them off. Yes, I use the word drag, as you could hardly say lift. If you use the word, catch; it suggests you may have been a bit late getting your arms up there.

Pros – Can be usually done by one person. Saves a lot of energy on the staffs part. Less chance of the staff falling off the barrier.

Cons – You hope the person you are catching is not a lot heavier than you. That they do not spin off the crowd so making it a lot harder to control and catch. The person gets a fright and struggles because they do not know if anyone is going to catch them. And most important of all, you don’t miss and drop them.

 

Version 2 – Get on the barrier and lift off the crowd.

 

There are several variations of this – One person gets up to do the lift, Two people get up to do the lift, One or Two persons get up to do the lift and One person behind to get support the team on the barrier or enough people get up there that they could each have a limb (this one is a bit of fun – shows inexperience in the front of stage crew, or over excitement and a definite lack of control and discipline). The idea is, you place yourself on the barrier, stop the forward motion of the surfer and then lift them off of the crowd, stepping off the barrier and placing them feet first on the ground.

Pros – The surfer is under a greater amount of control during the final stages of the process, with a reduced risk of falling to the ground; no need for anything else.

Cons – If you are butch enough to step up and do a one man lift, then you can pay the court bills if it goes wrong (we are all capable of this, but you must be good at judging body mass, be fit and not tired; the longer the show goes on the more this is likely and the higher the risk of mistakes, you not only put the person surfing at risk, but yourself). A two man lift is safer, but the timing has to be correct and there is still a risk of falling off the barrier. Three man lift reduces the risk further, by the third member supporting the two on the step and preventing slippage. The cost of a three man lift. The more staff to lift, the more money it cost (and as Biggie says, Mo Money, Mo Problems; especially if you are the person paying the bill).

 

This is a general overview of both styles. If we are being honest, during your time in front of stage you may use all of them. There is a reason why we bring this up. A couple of weeks ago, a person I know that works as front of stage manager asked me what was the best way. After a similar answer to him, I asked why was he asking? The reply stopped me in my tracks.

He had spoken to a few of the staff front of stage one night that had all worked for another companies as well as the one in operation that night. When being briefed on expected safety practice for catching crowd surfers (three man lift), they all said that was wrong and they had all just renewed their training and the instructor said it was wrong. The way to get crowd surfers was to catch them as they came off the crowd and any other way was wrong so they did not teach that  So the question was passed my way.

After taking time to think, my response was:-

“They follow the process and safety features put to them that night. Anyone not following this takes the risk upon themselves of injury to the crowd surfer”. Or “remove them from front of stage if they disagree”.

 

When it comes down to it, the front of stage supervisor/manager/boss; whatever you want to call them, decides how the team operate. That simple.

 

What else should you consider when forming an opinion on this subject.

  • Do you have posters up informing customers not to crowd surf? If not, why not? That is your first defence if it goes wrong. You are telling them not to do it, it is dangerous to them and staff….and the people underneath them.
  • A poster does not save you though, That cannot be your only defence for lack of safety precaution. If that was the case would power companies not save a load of money on those big fences and just stick up a few more warning signs.
  • Are you doing it a certain way because the person booking you will not spend more money on staffing?
  • Maybe have it written down why you have decided on either catching or lifting. If it all goes wrong and you end up in court, might be handy. Although, it would have to be strong reasoning.
  • Are your team briefed and trained? Does come in handy.
  • Do you have a risk assessment?
  • Does your insurance cover this service?
  • Are you confident in your understanding of the legal aspect of the service you are providing.

 

Now lots of this is not very Rock N Roll, but neither is going to court when you drop someone on their head. So we leave you with this parting thought…..

 

The provision of any safety feature is to reduce the risk of injury to patrons. Some say it is wrapping people in cotton wool and killing the thrill of going to a gig. But, we live in a blame culture and companies being sued for failures and causing injury. There is a reason why larger safety providers use the Three man lift as there standard operational practice and they train this way. It proves that you are taking as much steps as possible to negate risk of injury to patrons.

 

Whatever way you go with, no matter what…….just don’t drop them.

 

Workingwithcrowds.com 17th June 2018