If you only saw furries in the media, you might think they only meet at cons. But after the con, there’s local events you won’t know about unless you’re tuned in to their channels. Some of them are established with their own names, venues and dedicated dates. You can go and say tonight, this place is ours. That’s a sign of a movement by a full-fledged subculture.
Independent furry dance parties are well covered at Dogpatch Press. That’s adult night life. But for all ages, there’s furry bowling. Big bowling meets can be bigger than small cons. They happen all over the place, but how many does the furry world have? That might be too underground for anyone to guess!
I’d love to know more, considering how unusual and cool some of them seem.
Here’s a special look at the thriving community of the Pacific Northwest furries. (Member pics: Whenfurballsstrike.net)
November 12, 2016 – When Furballs Strike 25 – Fursuit bowling in Kenmore, Washington.
- ‘When Furballs Strike’ appears to be the biggest bowling meet for any furry community. If it was a con, it would just enter the Top 40 by attendance.
- Their nearest rival for size is a bowling meet in Brazil! How many outsiders are in touch with that corner of fandom? It shows how widespread this is.
- The Pacific Northwest furry community has remarkable activity. Does any other have an event calendar like Furlife on Meetup with over 2,000 members? (Disney’s marketers went to Furlife to reach furries for Zootopia.)
- Furry dance parties have tried to get established in the Pacific Northwest without the success you might expect, making this their biggest meet. (And their popular local con Rainfurrest shut down, but an unprecedented four are now proposed there.)
I talked to Kijani Lion, meet organizer:
Tell me more about the broken record?
“The record that was broken was actually our own record for “largest attendance at a furry/anthropomorphics fan bowling meet”. We had 297 attendees at When Furballs Strike 25, which broke our old record of 271 at When Furballs Strike 22. Before that, the Brazilian furbowl Furboliche had the record with 248 attendees at Furboliche 4 which took place Halloween 2015.”
Can you tell more about yourself?
“I am the lead organizer of both When Furballs Strike and FurLife: Pacific Northwest Furries, our large Meetup group with over 2,300 members. I do have some much-needed help on meet days from some wonderful FurLife members who assist me at the registration desk, take the official attendance and shoot video and photos for our website.
A little more about me – I was an employee of our host center for When Furballs Strike, Kenmore Lanes, for more than seven years. During that time I worked as a porter, front-desk attendant, server in the restaurant and finally a casino dealer – there was a small cardroom which was attached to the bowling center at the time. Around that time I graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in Journalism, and I got hired as a sports reporter and editor of a small local newspaper. I did that for five years before returning back to the casino industry as a dealer which I have been doing since 2013.
I have been around bowling most of my life, starting in junior leagues at the age of nine. I started bowling competitively in high school and bowled for the University of Washington Huskies for two years, traveling the country with the team to bowl events. Nowadays I compete in leagues and tournaments in the Seattle area and am currently averaging 216. I have 11 perfect 300 games to my credit, two of them in sanctioned league play. The thing that’s great about bowling and why it’s so popular among furries, I think, is that while it’s certainly challenging (especially in fursuit!), unlike other sports you don’t necessarily have to be good at it, or particularly athletic, to enjoy it.”
Kijani, what’s the history of the meet?
“I joined FurLife, and the furry fandom, back in 2008 and noticed there was no regular bowling meet for our local community, so I decided to try and change that. Towards the end of that year, I approached the manager of Kenmore Lanes, whom I had a great relationship with, and told him about my idea to host an event where many attendees would be bowling in mascot-like animal costumes. I got the go-ahead and the first WFS was held in December 2008 with a modest 40 attendees and eight fursuiters.
In about 2010, the meet started to really pick up as word got around and people started traveling father to attend, some from across the state of Washington, and even Oregon and Canada. Around WFS 5 or 6, I decided to add a post-event dinner gathering to the schedule so our attendees could share a meal together and make it a more social event. We started out in the party room of a local Denny’s, but we very quickly outgrew that, so I moved our dinner to, basically, the nearest buffet restaurant large enough to host us and we’ve been there ever since.
Over the years, I’ve keep the meet fresh by adding things like the prize raffle, where hundreds of dollars of prizes are given away to attendees after the bowling ends – mostly animal or furry-themed gifts, and I always supply a few very nice prizes like new bowling balls, huge framed Zootopia posters and things like that. We also got clearance to have a DJ play at the meet which has been a huge hit with our attendees. Furries, and fursuiters especially, love to dance and it’s really cool to see the bowling alley concourse turn into a makeshift dance floor!
I pride myself on hosting a well-run, organized and drama-free meet, so I go to great lengths to make sure that everything is in order before WFS meet days and that I do everything I can to make sure everyone has a fantastic time while they are there, even small things like helping people work the overhead consoles. We seem to have a large number of new members or first-time attendees at each one, and it’s my goal to make sure they feel welcome and enjoy themselves. I’ve found that once I do the legwork and get it going, the meet kind of runs itself. I think the meet’s success proves the old adage, “If you build it, they will come!”
What’s the local scene like? What are the biggest gatherings for it?
“The local fandom scene in the Pacific Northwest is very large and vibrant. We have approximately 2,300 members on our Meetup site, and I feel that only represents a small portion of the furry fandom members who actually live in the Pacific Northwest. Naturally, with a community that large, most people have their own circle of friends they hang out with, which is why large meets like WFS are important to bring all those groups together. The meet has sometimes been referred to as a mini-con, and I don’t think that’s inaccurate. FurLife has meets almost every weekend and meetup.com has been a great tool to help our local furries get connected with each other. WFS is by far the biggest gathering for FurLife – we have had summer barbecues and gatherings of that nature that have pulled approximately 150 attendees, but nothing to the scale of what WFS has become.”
What do outsiders think?
“They love it! We are fortunate that our host facility, Kenmore Lanes, is the largest bowling alley in the Pacific Northwest with 50 lanes, because we need to rent out around half of them for When Furballs Strike. The other half of the lanes is usually filled with families bowling and kids’ birthday parties, and most of them love the fursuiters. The general manager came up to me one day and jokingly said, “You know, when we have birthday parties scheduled with the furries, we tell the kids that we brought the characters in specially for them!”
I do a lot of public fursuiting and charity work on the side, and some of the best moments to me are when a child comes in to bowl with his or her family and their eyes light up when they see all these cartoon animals come to life, it’s like they woke up in fantasy land! Occasionally we will get a child or adult who has a fear of masks, and that can prove to be a challenge for us, since our party room is on the opposite end of the building from where we bowl. But thankfully the Seattle area is generally very open and accepting to things that may seem strange to others, so overall I’d say the public’s reaction to seeing the fursuiters at our meet has been overwhelmingly positive.”
“How does it feel to be part of it?”
It wasn’t until a couple years ago, about WFS 17 or 18 when we were finally approaching 200 attendees, that I realized that we had something really special going. One day I just decided to take a short break from my filming and organizing duties and just look around and take it all in – it was almost like a small furry convention: You saw people walking around with tails and ears on, artists drawing and sketching at the tables, friends enjoying each other’s company over cold beverages, the young child of one of our attendees hugging a fursuiter with the biggest smile on her face, other furries dancing and cameras everywhere taking pictures of the many amazing and creative costumes.
It just feels amazing to be able help bring this kind of event to the great Pacific Northwest furry community, especially right now since we’re reeling a little bit at the loss of Rainfurrest. Being part of this community has given me so much over the years including many great friendships, and it’s really an honor to be able to give back.
What lies ahead in the future?
“Just continuing what has made us successful for all these years. I’ll keep on making minor changes to accommodate our ever-growing attendance rate, such as starting a pre-registration system to alleviate the long registration line, and other small things to ensure things run as smoothly as possible. I always welcome suggestions from our FurLife members, but I’m of the belief that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It’s been an amazing run so far and I really have our wonderful FurLife community to thank for that, along with the great staff and management at Kenmore Lanes that truly loves furries and welcomes us with open arms.”
Pics and videos:
“Here is an album full of WFS25 photos from our official meet photographer, ChaosReign, and there are a bunch more on our website from years past. I do a more or less official FurLife video for every WFS meet. Here’s a YouTube playlist with all the WFS videos on it for convenience.
Thanks so much for reaching out! – Kijani”