Meet Tia Walters, Mr. Bear New Zealand 2024

The Mr. Bear New Zealand competition was held on February 2nd at Phoenix in Auckland as part of the New Zealand Bear Week Festivities (which just wrapped up on the 6th). After a good-spirited competition Tia ‘Bear’ Walters emerged victorious and we present our exclusive conversation with him below.

BWM: Congratulations on your title win Tia! Can you tell us a bit about your background?

Tia ‘Bear’ Walters: Kia Ora, Hello! I’m Tia also known in Aotearoa New Zealand as Tia-Bear. I am Māori, which is the indigenous people of New Zealand. I am engaged to my loving Partner Mike and a stepdad to two boys.

In 2020 I ran for Mr. Gay NZ campaigning on body diversity and body positivity. I was announced Mr. Gay NZ Congenitally that year.

I am a barber by trade and have been doing so for 10 years. I’m from a small town 2hrs north of Auckland, called Te Kōpuru which is very much a coastal and country farm life town. I now reside in Auckland.

BWM: When did you discover the bear community and how?

Tia: I discovered the bear community when I was 18 yrs old at Urge Bar, the only Bear Bar we had in New Zealand and through the New Zealand Falcons which are the Gay and inclusive Rugby team here in Auckland. I also just knew that I liked bearish type men once I discovered myself and my sexuality.

BWM: Can you tell us a bit about the New Zealand bear scene? How big is it? What are some favorite bars and events?

Tia: The Aotearoa New Zealand Bear scene from my experience and connection with the community is comforting, kind, loving, supportive, and just a great bunch of guys. The Bear NZ scene is not overly large but is a great scene to be a part of and now represent.

We used to have a bar in Auckland’s CBD (Central Business District) called Urge (mentioned above). It was a great bar, always a good time. It was the place for after-match drinks when I was playing for the NZ Falcons, there was never a dull moment. Urge closed down but the Urge Events still run.

We have Bear Week in NZ which is held in Auckland during the end of January or early February, and it serves as the beginning of Auckland Pride month. Throughout bear week there are a range of events from axe throwing to hikes and dance parties.

A few of my favourite events are Tri-Nations, UnderBear, locker-room, and Urge Birthday.

BWM: How was your experience competing? Why did you want to compete?

Tia: My experience competing for Mr. Bear New Zealand was great. There were a lot of nerves along the way but also, I felt like it was time that I entered and competed since I’ve been a part of the NZ Bear community for 12 years now.

BWM: Tell us about your platform. What was the issue you campaigned on or addressed during the competition?

Tia: For me I’ve always strongly stood for body diversity and body positivity, especially in the LGBTQI+ community. We don’t see a lot of body diversity in LGBTQI+ campaigns in New Zealand. This is especially true when it comes to body sizes represented in the bear community. For me that is important, that we showcase all body shapes and sizes and push for the equality of all cultures!

I also strongly stood on the issue of Mental Health this year. Part of the competition was fundraising for charity, and I chose GumBoot Friday, a charity for mental health. New Zealand has one of, if not the highest suicide rate for men and youth in the world!

BWM: What are the responsibilities associated with your title?

Tia: To hold the Title with pride and respect, to be a positive icon for my Bear community, to show up when needed and to show up without being asked!

BWM: What are your goals for your title year? What events will you be appearing at?

Tia: My goal for my title year is to be present within our wider community, to shed a positive light, and to show others us bears are a great bunch of guys. I also want to try to get more bears in campaigns and promotional work in the LGBTQI+ space.

Later this year I have the Mr. Bear Australasia competition in Melbourne, Australia. I’ll be going to represent our community and to show them what I can bring to the table. From my understanding the Aussie Bears are pretty competitive. I’m excited and cannot wait to meet them all and show them what I’ve got! hehehe

I will also be at the Auckland Pride March, Auckland Ponsonby Pride Parade, Big Gay Out, Gay Ski Week in NZ, potentially Mardi Gras in Sydney, Australia and potentially Bangkok for Mr. Bear International.

BWM: Sounds great Tia! Have fun and good luck!

Be sure to keep up with Tia ‘Bear’ Walters, Mr. Bear New Zealand 2024 by following him on Instagram and TikTok.

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