Communities come about in one of two ways: people live near each other and are essentially neighbors, or we share a common interest that unifies us across distances. And in some cases, both. But the strength of any community comes down to its people, and in most communities, leaders emerge when individuals step up to put in the extra time, energy and effort to make sure all the members are taken care of. In the San Francisco bear community, one such leader is Cody Elkin, who recently revived the dormant Mr. San Francisco Bear contest after nearly a decade in hibernation.
“Cody’s heart has always been raising donations and awareness for different causes,” says Ray Sherwin, Mr. Bolt Leather 2016 and head judge of the recent Mr. San Francisco Bear 2024. “Combined with his desire to resurrect the SF Bear titles, he’s given the SF bear community a wonderful way to do more for good causes — while coming together to support bear-friendly businesses in San Francisco.”
Sherwin has known Cody a long time, having also competed alongside him in the 2016 International Mr. Leather contest in Chicago. That year, Cody was competing after having been named Mr. San Francisco Leather. His many other titles include Mr. San Francisco Bear 2008, Mr. Bay Area Cub 2006, Mr. Lonestar 2010, 2011 and 2016, Mr. Bay Area Rodeo 2014, and two years as Mr. October on the Bare Chest calendar raising funds for the PRC (formerly Positive Resource Center).
“Working with Cody is a lot of fun. He knows so many people and has an encyclopedic knowledge of history and resources,” says Jeffrey Wayne, Associate Producer of Mr. SF Bear. “He can almost anticipate questions.” Perhaps that’s one of the reasons this year’s contest, generously sponsored by the Alta California Leather Corps, was such a big success. Five fresh contestants stood at the Lone Star Saloon and SF Eagle before judges including Iowa Bear 2023 Michael Weeks and the first Mrs. Sacramento Leather, Tiffany O’Brien. After all was said and done, Manny Santos was crowned the winner.
We chatted with Cody recently to discuss the contest, his other charity projects, and hopes he has for the community going forward.
Bear World Magazine: What inspired you to resurrect the Mr San Francisco Bear contest after it’d been dormant so long?
Cody Elkin: The reason I was inspired to bring back the Mr. San Francisco contest was because we need a reason to celebrate bears here in San Francisco and to bring new leaders to the forefront and celebrate them and our future.
BWM: In your opinion, what are the ingredients to a successful title contest or contest weekend?
CE: To have a good weekend and contest you need to celebrate your contestants, have great performances, and lots of friendly people having fun times and welcoming all creatures of the forest.
BWM: Now that Mr San Francisco Bear 2024 is behind you, what would you say was the most challenging part, and what was the most rewarding part, of the whole experience?
CE: The most challenging part of putting together the contest and weekend was all the moving parts and all the volunteers we needed for the weekend. I’m very lucky to have a lot of personal relationships here in San Francisco to make it happen. I want to say a big thank you to all who volunteered and showed up to support the contest and weekend.
BWM: For next year, you are introducing a non-binary title called Goldilocks, a sort of sibling title to Mr SF Bear. What qualities will you be looking for in the candidates?
CE: I’m excited to announce a new title to be a sibling to Mr San Francisco Bear. It’s a non-binary title called Goldilocks. The qualities I’m looking for will be a fun, friendly person who will work in tandem with Mr SF Bear in spreading love and raising money for needy charities in our Bay Area.
BWM: Between the contests and your holiday children’s toy drive, you seem to have a sincere desire to nourish a sense of community in your hometown. Is that accurate, and if so, where do you think that comes from?
CE: The reason I do my contest and the toy drive with my husbear, Jack, is because my drive to raise money and toys for our community and people in need comes from my upbringing. My parents had little to no money for my siblings and me. We were taught to work hard and always help those in need. It costs nothing to help a person change a tire, jump a car battery, or cut an elderly neighbor’s grass, or, as we do, put on a toy drive — for the 14th year this year. We know getting a toy at Christmas puts a smile of a child’s face, and that’s priceless.
BWM: How would you like to see the SF bear community change or grow, if at all?
CE: I’d love to see the bear community come together to celebrate our differences, but also celebrate our common interests. Celebrate the past traditions, but make new ones too. Remember to look to our past, but look to our future bears to lead us forward.
BWM: Is there anyone you’d like to give a shoutout to or anything we may not have covered that you’d like to share?
CE: I’d love to give a shout out to my amazing financial sponsor and my Leather Club ACLC.
Also to my husbear, Jack Sugrue, for all the posters and support. To Jeffrey Wayne, my associate producer; the SF Eagle; and Homer Marrs for his amazing performance; and above all to the San Francisco bear community and bear lovers who came out to support the contest after a decade of hibernation.