Your College Unnie: Crowd surfing changed my life

Skiers and snowboarders at a bar
(Arielle Rizal | Daily Trojan)

Besides removing the bruising clamp of ski boots at the end of the day, one of the most classic traditions of skiing and snowboarding is Après. Formally known as Après-Ski, Après is a beloved afternoon pastime that draws crowds to a base lodge to dance and drink until dark. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love, love, LOVE skiing. This semester, I’ve gone up to Mammoth almost every weekend. But, I had my qualms about Après. 

Walking almost a mile both ways on ice in the dark didn’t seem terribly appealing. Plus, I enjoyed the long, steamy showers I had while everyone else went out. It was peaceful. Après seemed … chaotic. 

Sometimes, though, I wondered what it would be like to go, as I had never tried. At Mammoth, it was always “Let’s go to Après!” or “Are you coming to Après?” or “You should come to Après!” 

Time and time again, I brought up excuses for why I couldn’t go — “I’m pretty tired.” (The night was young.) “I’ve got work to do.” (It wasn’t that much.) “I’ll go next time.” (I wouldn’t.)

But, the first weekend of February, I made a decision: I would go to Après. Probably not the most well-thought-out decision I’ve ever made tbh. But I guess being nauseous in the backseat of a car climbing through winding switchbacks on a Thursday evening brings a certain kind of clarity (or impulsivity). 

The next day, someone asked if I was going. “Sure!” I replied. Though I knew my carefree air still came as a surprise. I sounded so … light. Fun. Lively.

That weekend changed my life.

Canyon was truly a scene to behold. Flashy jackets, string lights and pitties reflected every version of ROYGBIV possible. All around, people swayed and pulsed to the thumping bass of “Summertime Sadness” and “Mr. Brightside.” Before I knew it, there I was. In the crowd. Dancing. Beaming. Laughing. Without a care in the world, I shouted the chorus of GAYLE’S “abcdefu” with my teammates. And that’s all there was. I didn’t care. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t thinking about the work I had to do. I wasn’t overanalyzing my mistakes. I wasn’t paralyzed by anxious thoughts of how others might perceive me.

In the natural blur of a mosh and its habits, I turned to Nick, a fellow skier. Honestly, what happened next is still unreal. “Crowd surf?!” he shouted. “What?!” I replied, smiling. And just like that, I was in the air. Moving through the crowd. Floating. 

I wasn’t just surviving. Finally, I was living.

Eventually, I passed to the other side of the crowd, where a kind man helped me on top of a chair. 

“Crowd surfing? You’re crazy!” He laughed. I shrugged my shoulders. “College!” 

I joined the team back on the ground a little while later. When I think back on it, that whole weekend is tinted golden yellow in my mind. It was the first time in a while that I had felt genuinely happy. At last, I was free. 

Crossing chasms can seem challenging. But small things, like crowd surfing, are reminders of life’s simplicity. 

As I reflect on my identity as a Korean American and the diverse community in which I live, there’s a lesson to be learned here. Time and time again, minority and ethnic groups have been pitted against each other in American history. Our differences have been mined. Emphasized. Manipulated. Rather than supporting one another and uniting against common adversaries like inequality, division has “othered” allies and crippled entire communities.

This all melted away during Après. In any crowd, people gather to enjoy the music and share a common experience, regardless of their race, ethnicity or background. With Après, skiers and snowboarders come to relax and unwind after a go-go-go day on the mountain. 

Crowd surfing requires trust and cooperation between people. The surfer has to trust that the crowd will support and carry them safely, and judge the benefits of crowd surfing to be greater than the risk of being dropped. At Après, trust, music and people work together to transcend cultural and language barriers. 

Members of the crowd not only “understand” and support the surfer’s decision, they also “under-stand” — standing under the surfer to support them through the process. Crowd members may not even know themselves what crowd surfing is like. They may be of different ethnicities. Socioeconomic backgrounds. Ages. Career fields. MBTI personalities. Still, together, they lift up the surfer.

Now, I’m not saying crowd surfing is the answer to bridging racial divides by any means — though I wish life were that easy. However, it surpasses differences to unite people in a community towards a common cause.

At our core, we are all human beings who share common experiences and desires. In coming together and supporting one another, we can tackle any obstacle.

So take that leap. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Those forearms are stronger than you think. And the human spirit is more resilient than you know.

Victoria Lee is a freshman writing about the AAPI experience in America. She is also the wellness and community outreach director for the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Your College Unnie,” runs every other Wednesday.