Nerfpunk: The underground culture

A new underground culture is bombarding North America’s young adults – Nerfpunk. This culture integrates steampunk and raving with nerf guns, taking the child’s toy to a whole new level. While it has been around in other areas for years, it is just becoming a relevant and recurring trend in Vancouver in the past two years. Though 10 out of 10 Capilano University student surveyed had no idea what Nerfpunk was, they were interested about it and were also interested in becoming part of its strange culture.

Nerfpunk costumes are very outrageous. They use a lot of stiff fabrics to create abstract and bulky shapes instead of clothes that are form fitting to their bodies. Each Nerfpunker’s outfit will be different, but they are all very loud with their colours utilizing neon to near illegal limits. Females will usually wear skirts or dresses with lots of cleavage while the males wear large bulky pants and various types of shirts and vests or coats. Accessories are a must, ranging from top hats to goggles to hair scrunches to the obvious and needed Nerf gun. Once in their costumes, Nerfpunkers completely transform from their normal everyday person to a completely different, wild, outgoing person.

Nerfpunk consist of several sides; dressing up in bright colours with Nerf guns, raving, Nerf wars, conventions, customizing Nerf guns and the online world of Nerfpunk. While the recent rise of the culture within Vancouver has taken place over the last four years, Nerfpunk itself has been around since a little after the Nerf gun was invented in 1969 by the Parker Brothers toy company. Shortly after the first Nerf gun came out, the first Nerf convention was held. The first official Nerf convention was held in 1974, while the first known official Nerfpunk convention wasn’t held until 1985.

Vancouver’s first and only official Nerfpunk convention was in 1997, held downtown at the Vancouver Convention Center. “We tried to have another convention at some point,” says Nerfpunker Robbie Sumners, “ but since there are so few Nerfpunkers that are willing to travel [nobody in the Nerfpunk community] has been able to organize another convention in Vancouver.”

There is a huge question of why people choose to venture into the Nerfpunk culture. Many people who practice Nerfpunk are not children, as we would suspect, but statistics from show that the average age of a Nerfpunker is around 29, while the age ranges from 18 to mid-50s. Nerfpunk is a culture that brings together the generation gap.

Nerfpunk is a way for people of all ages to party yet feel like a child at the same time. The culture is filled with bright neon colours, particularly oranges, greens and pinks, and is drawing lots of attention from both the female and the male population. “We want to stand out,” points out Sumners, “These colours, styles and shapes allow us to do that. They allow us to stand out in a way that we can’t in our normal clothes ”


Getting to shoot a gun can be an exciting idea, especially if the item fired is a foam dart that will stick to your target without injury. Gun modifications make the guns still functional yet have a better range and usually are suited to go with the person’s Nerfpunk costume colours. “Custom side panels are usually added to the guns,” Says female Nerfpunker Jen Tompson, “These make them look less like toys and more like an actual gun.” Many Nerfpunkers also enhance the air pressure in their gun so the dart fly’s faster, making their aim more accurate and making sure their dart will stick to their opponent almost 100 per cent of the time.

Guns are traded online, pieces are bought to make the guns appear more dangerous and look less like children’s toys. Yet, the main point of these wars still remains the same as they show on the Nerf gun ads on television – attack your opponent, hit them and get them out of the game. If you are the last one standing then you are the winner of the war.

Nerf wars are becoming a less and less common part of the Nerfpunk culture while raving and conventions are becoming the norm. Nerfpunkers are looking less towards Nerf side of the culture and more towards its interesting dress code and exclusive party locations. While the real die-hard originators of the Nerfpunk genre are trying to keep Nerf wars going, the Nerfpunk culture they are holding onto is slowly dying out and may gradually become extinct, defeating the purpose of having the Nerf gun all together.


Websites such as The Smoking Lounge, Nerf Haven and Nerf SG help Nerfpunkers trade guns, costume ideas, secrets on where locations are in certain cities and even set up conventions. To sign up for these websites can be a lenghty undertaking. The require a little more than just a name, user name and password – the sign up form asks you what type of gun you prefer, what city you reside in, what costume pieces you own and how often you participate in Nerf wars. Once you are signed up it can become very obvious if you are a Nerfpunk n00b or a Nerfpunk expert.

Similar websites are set up for a simple Nerfer, such as NerfHQ, where they do not talk about costumes or raving at all and just stick to the basic facts on what is the best Nerf gun to buy and what Nerf gun is coming out next. These websites are much easier to sign up for, and some even let you write on the forums as a guest.

However helpful these websites may be, they are also a gateway to the secret rave scenes around different cities which can create perilous situations. Because Nerfpunkers have very eccentric personalities, they are also more eccentric ravers, which tend to lead to a more predominant use of drugs.

Statistics Canada reports that in 2007 one of every eight people between the ages of 18 and 30 was using or had used ecstasy within the past six months. Ecstasy is well-known as Nerfpunker’s main party drug. Statistics Canada also tells us that one out of every three people have done Ecstasy and that people who go to raves are five times more likely to do drugs than people who don’t go to raves. Raving is a huge part of the Nerfpunk culture, and it is a major part of what makes it different from regular people who have Nerf guns. But, it is also the most dangerous part of this underground culture.


Nerfpunkers do not attend the normal clubs in downtown Vancouver like the Roxy or Celebrities. Instead, they head to Yaletown to meet up with the rest of the Vancouver Nerfpunkers to rave. The club, also known to the Nerfpunkers as NC or Zone, at first glance seems like an average Yaletown apartment, but once inside it is covered with blacklights and neon paint. Most nights it is deserted, but one night a week there are a couple dozen Vancouver Nerfpunkers who make their way to the Zone dressed in their brightly coloured outfits with their Nerf guns. Admission to this club is free as long as you are a well-known Nerfpunker, they can tell if you are imitating them. Guests are usually not welcome, unless appropriately dressed and equipped with their own gun and ready to rave.

While we know it is thriving in Vancouver and across Canada today, the future of Nerfpunk itself is unclear. It’s a movement with its share of pros and cons – the culture is growing, yet remains conservatively exclusive. Nerf wars are dying while raving and conventions are growing. But, as Jen Tompson says, “we have nothing to worry about, we have been around for ages and we will continue to [thrive] in modern day and future society. So look out world! Or better yet, come join us.”

//Christine Jamieson

//Illustration by Miles Chic

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