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Barbells, Bears and Butts: Inside San Fran’s Most Unique Competition

Now in its third year, one of the biggest highlights of the Bearrison Street Fair is the Barbells, Bears, and Butts Deadlift Competition. We speak to event organizers to get a better understanding of the event, its purpose and the intersectionality between bears and powerlifting.

The Bearrison Street Fair is a collaboration between the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Inc., (SPI) and the Bears of San Francisco (BOSF). Since the first fair in 2021, Bearrison seeks to provide an inclusive event for all members of the adult LGBTQ+ community which promotes body positivity and builds a more supportive, welcoming, and inclusive bear scene by representing a diverse arena of cultures. One of those said cultures is fitness, and what better way to celebrate that culture than with a good old-fashioned competition?

The Barbells, Bears, and Butts Deadlift Competition has been a cornerstone event of the Bearrison Street Fair thanks to all the fun, inclusion and flesh it brings to the festivities. Co-organized by Ben Fonik, a San Francisco based DJ & Director of Entertainment for Bearrison Street Fair and MetalBob, a certified personal trainer and powerlifting coach, the event has become exemplary of power of inclusivity.

Both men recently joined us to discuss the evolution of this beloved event and the unique brand of magic it brings to the streets of San Francisco.

BWM: What is the Barbells, Bears, and Butts Deadlift Competition and what is its mission, values, and vision? 

Bob: The Barbells Bears & Butts Deadlift Competition is a fun and sexy, all-inclusive weightlifting event held annually as part of the Bearrison Street Fair in San Francisco. Its part powerlifting meet, part strongman competition and part San Francisco Street Fair.   Its mission is to celebrate strength and fitness in our community in a fun and sexy way that is inclusive and welcoming for all. For me personally, my mission has been to take the positive and inspiring energy I experience at powerlifting meets and bring it to our community.  Rather than competing for a max lift (heaviest weight possible), competitors compete for maximum reps at using 135 lbs, 225 lbs or 315 lbs bar weight.  Lifters have one minute each to deadlift as many reps as possible.  Lifters with the most reps win.  

BWM: Why was this event added to Bearrison Street Fair?

Ben: The first Bearrison was held in 2021, and as we’ve been building the fair our identity has been coming into focus.  Bearrison has a creative spirit and a sense of humor, and above all Bearrison seeks to celebrate the richness and diversity of expressions in bear culture, from fem and drag to beef and muscle.  Lifting and strength athletics is a big part of bear culture.  And beefy guys in jock straps are always a crowd pleaser.  So, I thought why not marry the two?  But truly I credit MetalBob for being the muse.  Before I met him, I had followed him on Instagram, and I had a big appreciation for his humor.  The spark of the idea was synonymous with Bob; if a jock strap weightlifting competition were to be done, Bob was the one to do it.  It’s a testament to how, as a community, we can build off each other’s creativity.  I wrote Bob a message with my wild hair idea to hold a “jock strap bench press competition” and much to his credit he was willing to hear me out.  Bob had the idea to go with the deadlift and we built the competition from there.

BWM: What was the first event like? 

Bob: The first event was a huge success, such a positive and inspiring event for all.  Ben and I planned the event for months, figuring out all the details for how we could make a weightlifting event work as part of the street fair experience.  With his knowledge of event planning and my knowledge of powerlifting meets we came up with a contest that really works.  The relationship between the lifters and the crowd is what makes this event so special.  The positive energy is off the charts. 

BWM: Tell us a bit about the unique flavor of the competition and what your favorite aspects of it are.

Bob: One of the things we are proud of is that this contest can be a bit of a gateway introduction into powerlifting for both the competitors and for the community.  For the competitors, this is often their first weightlifting competition.  It is a welcoming and encouraging environment for people who love to lift to participate and see for themselves what a great feeling it is to compete. A few lifters have since gone on and competed in more official powerlifting meets.  For the crowds, many people coming to the fair are not expecting to be drawn into a weightlifting competition, but the raw energy and the fun spectacle draws such a huge crowd, people can’t help but get sucked in and start cheering.  That was one of things I had hoped to accomplish with this contest, to take the power and positivity I’ve experienced at powerlifting meets and bring it to the community.  

Ben: Another unique aspect of the event is that we have a “loose” dress code.  We encourage participants to wear jockstraps and we invite gay flair.  The event taps into the spirit of San Francisco.  We’re a costume-y kind of town and people like to turn a look.  We’ve had competitors compete in jockstraps, wigs, pup masks, furry masks, singlets, and leather lingerie.  We also welcome participants to compete in whatever attire they feel most comfortable.  Regular lifting gear is absolutely welcome.  We want everyone to feel comfortable and have a good time.  Also, I’m not totally sure, but we might just be the only deadlift competition to ever exist that is hosted by a drag queen.

BWM: And just for clarity what exactly is considered powerlifting and what is a deadlift? How is this contest different from a traditional powerlifting contest?

Bob: Powerlifting is a mode of weight training that emphasizes full body strength development.  Powerlifting trains the body to handle increasingly heavier weights using big multi-joint compound movements like the deadlift. More specifically powerlifting is a competitive sport where the goal is to lift maximum weight for a 1-rep max. The deadlift is one of the three main lifts of powerlifting, along with the squat and bench press. 

Our contest differs from traditional powerlifting meets where lifters compete for the heaviest one-rep max.  Instead, we compete for maximum reps.  One of the biggest things that makes our competition different from most strength events is that men and women compete together.  There is no separation based on gender.  Allowing lifters to compete using the bar weight they feel best suited to is what levels the playing field.  Each year we’ve had women compete alongside the men and the crowd loves the energy they bring.  Each year women have either won or competed in the final rounds.  

BWM: We love to hear that! Why is gender and body type diversity so important to you?

Bob: I am just very proud that our contest and our community found a way for everyone to compete together, and it just works. When it comes to endurance and drive there is no difference in genders, and everyone just does their best. This year I am hoping we see one of the women compete in the heaviest weight category. I’m sure she will kick ass.  

Ben: One of our best competitors over the past two years, Linda Chungchootiarong, is a competitive powerlifter and at the time of competing owned a gym called An Iron Movement in San Francisco.  The gym catered to female strength athletes.  When I approached Linda, she was 100% on board.  She and Bob share a kindred spirit.  The first year, Linda showed up in a leather lingerie number and absolutely crushed it.  She won the 225lbs bar weight category.  The crowd loved her and overall, really gets behind the female competitors.  It’s all about creating a space for competitors to push themselves and have fun.  We’re proud to have created an event where everyone feels welcome to compete, regardless of gender.  It’s good vibes all around. 

BWM: Bob, do you train many bears and do you identify as a bear yourself?

Bob:  I am fortunate to live and work as a trainer in San Francisco at what is considered to be a very gay friendly gym.  Many of my clients self-identify as bears. As a bear myself, I understand the specific health and fitness goals that bears tend to have. That is an issue many of us face, personal trainers not understanding the specific goals that we may have as bears and instead trying to give us cookie cutter workouts that don’t match our goals. 

BWM: How would you like to grow the event? What do you want the competition to represent to the bear community, specifically?

Bob:  For now, we are very focused on the next contest in October.  This will be our third year having the competition as part of Bearrison Street Fair and we are looking to make it extra special and fun.  This event has some buzz behind it now and we just hope it keeps growing along with the fair. Powerlifting and powerlifters are very popular among bears so having a weightlifting competition as part of the fair is a good fit. We want this contest to celebrate strength and fitness in our community, but we also want it to inspire.  We hope that the contest will help demonstrate that the bear community is open and welcoming to all.  

BWM: Something we can definitely get behind! Good luck fellas and we’ll see you at the fair!

Bearrison Street Fair will be held Saturday Oct. 19th from 12:00-6:00pm at Harrison and 11th in San Francisco, CA. 

The Barbells, Bears, and Butts Deadlift Competition will be held 1:00-2:00pm and 3:00-4:00pm.

For more information or to sign up for the competition click HERE.

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