Elevator surfing

17 July, 2022

Ground floor - Introduction

The elevator filming community is a niche collective of individuals that make video recordings of elevators (lifts) and share them online. These videos are for the most part exactly what you’d expect from the title - a first-person view of the cameraperson calling, waiting for, and then using a lift in a public space. They will typically comment on the make and condition of the elevator during the ride, and the video will finish once the journey completes. The entire experience is typically less than 2 minutes long.

The first channel filming and recording his elevator tours was DieselDucy, who claims to have started the practice in 1997. The first one uploaded online was on his channel in 2006, and since then he has gone on to receive hundreds of thousands, or sometimes millions of views for his elevator videos, as well as various media appearances and recognition from the elevator industry itself. The community started to gain traction in the early 2010s, and an extensive Wiki documents the people and their practices.

As an aside, I’d quickly like to mention that I am not an active participant in this community, but rather an outsider looking in. My friends and I were only made aware of this phenomenon through the arguably stranger practice of scouring YouTube for no-view videos of our hometown during the pandemic.

First floor - Executive Suite

As the community expanded, so did the appetite for more exclusive content. The group seem to hold a shared disdain for recent cost-cutting measures by lift manufacturers to modernise public lifts to more uniform designs with cheaper replacement parts. Instead, they hold a great reverence for the older, more characteristic designs of the 1960s and 70s.

In trying to get more exclusive content for their channels, many elevator enthusiasts try to seek out lesser-used, and thus less likely to modernised lifts. This often includes service lifts and generally those out of the public eye. In this regard, the videos can start to have some intersection with urban exploration videos. Many creators start opting for longer tours around town centres, filming multiple lifts and trying to locate the more exclusive areas - things such as inaccessible floors, control rooms, and the aforementioned service elevators. One of the most popular channels in this space was BENO, an English YouTuber who made videos around the world. These videos were not without controversy, and sometimes featured security guards attempting to stop the explorers in their tracks.

With a growing popularity, these channels started filming the most exclusive space of all - the top of the elevators themselves.

Second floor - Surf’s Up

Elevator surfing is the practice of riding on the roof of a lift as it is in motion. The practice predates the elevator filming community, being enough of an issue that the New York City Housing Authority Police Department made a video literally titled (CW: gore, death) Children Are Too Young To Die to warn (or terrify) children all the way back in 1989.

BENO’s channel is full of lift surfing videos. Interviewed in an Insider article in 2021, he claims to have performed over 5000 surfs since 2015.

In order to actually climb on top of the lift, an engineer’s key is used in order to force the doors open. These are purchased online by the surfers who can then use them while nobody is looking in order to climb aboard. As well as the inherent danger to lift surfing, this practice of misusing keys is seen as a particular pain point within the community. DieselDucy made a long post calling out the practice on his Facebook, warning about basically everything mentioned above, as well as claiming to have spoken to people within the industry, who think members of the community are “idiots”. DieselDucy says he “can see why” they’d think so. A page on the Wiki titled “Appropriate Use of Elevator Keys” was taken down by the author for causing “nothing but controversy, arguments and bullying since the day it was first published”. The edit history of the page remains, however. We can see that the page tries to remain as impartial as possible, but also contains the line “Always check your surroundings and look out for CCTV cameras. No matter which action you do.” A seperate article titled The Dangers of Elevator Surfing remains up, showing the recent change in stance on the part of the Wiki from fence-sitting neutrality to staunchly anti-surfing.

Third floor - Warring Factions

BENO however remains undeterred. Publicly he will make comments saying he doesn’t recommend surfing to those who don’t know what they’re doing, but his upload rate remains high, with many videos featuring multiple surfs each. This would eventually catch the attention of Elevation Magazine, a UK industry paper, and LEIA, the Lift and Escalator Industry Association, who tried to get BENO’s videos taken down, citing safety concerns. BENO retaliates with his own magazine, published online and imaginatively titled the “Moo Cow Diarrhoea Tasting Club” (henceforth MCDTC so I don’t have to look at that again), which details the exploits of BENO and his friends alongside MS Paint illustrations. The first issue contains multiple insults against the man in charge of Elevation Magazine, as well as calls to actions among his followers to spread the message of BENO’s unfair treatment. BENO and his magazine make the claims that lift filming and surfing are not illegal, that BENO knows what he is doing and that “any children with him are completely safe at all times”. He also believes industry mouthpieces like Elevation Magazine are trying to ruin the legacy of the older lifts in favour of the boring modernisations previously mentioned.

The rest of the magazine, subsequent issues of MCDTC and BENO’s video uploads go on to try and disprove this as hard as possible, pulling off stunts like operating cranes, reprogramming lifts to announce they’ve plummeted, and surfing shaftless, outdoor lifts, as well as lift counterweights.

Some community members answered BENO’s rallying call and uploaded videos with the #SaveBeno hashtag, others were strongly opposed. This state of affairs seemed to continue for some time. The MCDTC continued releasing PDF issues monthly for four years, and somewhere along the line the original target, Elevation Magazine, must have disappeared because I cannot find any reference to it. I am also unsure if any dangerous videos were taken down or not.

All this seemed to come to a halt, however, when BENO seemingly forgot to renew the domain for the site hosting the MCDTC issues. It was then bought up by rivals within the community, and now hosts a “Facts about BENO” page that brings forth an array of claims, ranging from emotional blackmail to child abduction warnings from the police. This seemed to halt the publication of any more MCDTC issues, but not the man himself, who hosts the archive on his personal site and still to this day uploads YouTube videos of elevator surfing.

Fourth floor - Conclusion

There are many more people within the community, but it seems for the most part that the more dangerous aspects are centered around BENO and his friends. Some of the videos are incredibly anxiety-inducing, especially the counterweight ones, and I’m honestly amazed he’s still going. The facts page suggests he’s had multiple run-ins with the police.

Meanwhile, the community of much more harmless videos riding inside the lifts continues to this day, mostly undisturbed by the further antics.