Grab the sunscreen and swimsuit because Bear Tubing, an annual event hosted by the Houston Bears social club, is scheduled Sept. 26–29 in New Braunfels. Now entering its fifth year, the float trip is a two-day, three-night adventure that includes lodging, food, drinks, a river float, pool parties, and activities galore.
“Bear Tubing is a fun event in a safe environment where gay people can be themselves. Even though it is a bear event, the group passes no judgement on anyone and has always welcomed people in and made them feel like they belong,” says Houston Bears president Tony Fernandez.
He estimates around 160 people from across the state will attend the retreat, which includes just as much fun on land as it does in the water. The first night includes a bar party at Our Lady Bar and Grill, followed by two days of sun and buns (of the hot-dog variety).
Due to increased demand, Fernandez says more activities have been added to the schedule than in previous years.
“We’re going to have volleyball, badminton, kayaking, and people can hang out at the pool. People are going to go to a brewery and winery. There will be a tour at a small zoo. There are activities for everyone,” he notes.
Registration guarantees tube rental, Friday and Saturday pool parties with transportation between the two hotels, a vote in the Mr. Bear Tubing Contest (the group’s version of a pageant), Friday dinner, Saturday-morning breakfast, and Saturday dinner. There is an optional brunch on Sunday morning. Those who register by Sept. 1 will receive an exclusive Bear Tubing T-Shirt. Free transportation is provided between the host hotel (Gruene River Outpost Lodge), the overflow lodging at Slumber Falls Camp, and the parties.
Fernandez says, “This is the way a lot of the bear clubs get together and get to see each other on a regular basis. Plus, there’s always the elusive chance-meeting of Mr. Right. We’ve had a lot of people who have met their significant others or started dating because of Bear Tubing.”
Vendors have been quick to see this as an opportunity to market their products to a captive audience.
“One year, we were approached by a swimsuit fashion designer. He designed 15 swim suits and we did a fashion show,” Fernandez said. This year, the event will host pop-up shops featuring leather gear and merchandise from gay outlet stores, in addition to Houston Bears apparel.
Social events that double as fundraising endeavors are hardly a rarity in the bear community. Austin Bears celebrates Austin Chill Weekend. Dallas Bears throws the Texas Bears Round-Up. And don’t forget the Renegade Bears of San Antonio and its Alamo City Bear Fest. Houston Bears has no intention of breaking that tradition of philanthropy.
The two charity partners that Houston Bears elected to sponsor this year, and who will receive the proceeds from Bear Tubing, are Hatch Youth and Montrose Grace Place. Hatch Youth is Houston’s oldest currently active social group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth. It is dedicated to empowering LGBTQ adolescents, ages 13–20, to become responsible citizens and positive contributors to society. Montrose Grace Place’s goal is to provide a safe, welcoming environment for vulnerable homeless youth of all sexualities and genders, providing nourishment, healthy relationships, and hope for the future.
Fernandez says that while their name is Houston Bears, the group welcomes everyone—people who are bears, people who admire bears, people who are dating bears, otters, wolves, etc., as well as women.
“There’s no strict definition of what a bear is. It could be somebody who is thin and hairy, or someone who is chubby. We’re trying to get people into it who you wouldn’t consider to be the stereotype of a traditional gay person,” Fernandez says. “We’re trying to make sure people realize it’s a safe space for anyone to come, have fun, and make money for charities.”
Bear Tubing takes place Thursday, Sept. 26 through Sunday, Sept. 29 on the Comal River and other destinations. Festivities commence at Gruene Outpost River Lodge, 1273 River Terrace, New Braunfels. Registration is available online at beartubing.com/registration or in person the day of the event. $115 to $135 for the event. Day passes on Saturday are $80. Houston Bears members receive a $20 discount. Lodging, ranging $40 to $295 per night, is separate. For more info about the organization, visit houstonbears.org.
This article appears in the August 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.