My First Furry Con: A Decade On

Background

Nothing makes you feel older than the passage of time, and realising that a decade has passed since one of my most cherished memories has made me want to reflect.
10 years ago, in November of 2010, I attended my first ever furry convention: RBW in London. Compared to the conventions of today it was very small and basic, but it was an amazing experience for me nonetheless.

I think it's important to consider where I was as a person at the time, as even looking back on that is interesting for me. I was 19 and just starting up my second year of university, I'd just come out of my first ever "real" relationship (that is, one that was more than a high-school fling of a couple of weeks), and earlier that year my band had split up, making me lose contact with my best friend up until that point.
I was eager to find a new social group, and I'd been attending local furmeets for around a year at this point, and though I'd have a few regular faces I'd talk to, I didn't have anyone I'd consider a good friend yet. I was also eager to find a new relationship, and I thought I was hot shit. Ugh, when I look back at any posts I made from back then, I shudder in disgust of how much of an asshole I was.

Though I'd considered myself a part of the furry fandom for a couple of years, it was only really from going to furmeets that it started to feel real. Actually meeting other furries was a huge thing for me, and I think I viewed everything with rose-tinted glasses to begin with, desperate to fit in and find friends.
Though they were furries, there wasn't much in terms of physical paraphernalia at these meets - there may have been the odd tail or conbadge, but when it came to things like fursuits, I hadn't seen anything in person before.
There were around 10-15 regular attendees at these furmeets, and they had all decided to go to RBW in a couple of weeks. I hadn't heard of it, but someone told me I still had time to register, and gave me contact details of another friend of theirs that I didn't know. Long story short, I end up booking a hotel with this person I'd never met, and was all ready to attend the convention.

I had only been to London a few times when I was younger, and couldn't remember much of it at all. This was going to be the biggest journey I'd done by myself, going to a city I'd never been to before. It was very exciting, and I remember sitting on the train almost an hour before it was due to depart, anxiously awaiting the start of my big adventure.
I met with the person I was rooming with at the station, and we headed off to the hotel where the convention was held, travelling through the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf to get there.
London, and especially the Canary Wharf area will always hold a special place in my heart from how magical it made me feel - I'd made it all the way to this crazy place on my own.

The Convention

Entering the convention hotel was something else, packed with crowds of people, and they were all furries. It was unbelievable! I recognised so many names from the UK Fur forums, it was like my Internet hangouts had come to life, and I was part of it.
The hotel space was relatively small, and there wasn't much in the way of actual scheduled events at the convention, but it didn't matter. I was surrounded by over a hundred people with whom I shared a common interest, and that felt amazing.

I mostly stuck around with people I knew from local meets, but I was introduced to a few new faces as well. In terms of convention activities, the main things I can remember is visiting the dealer's den, which was nothing more than a small room with about 3 or 4 tables inside (a far cry from the huge, sprawling caverns of most cons!). Everyone who attended got a free laser-etched dog tag with their furry name, and this was the first bit of furry merchandise I owned! There was an artist known as SketchKat drawing conbadges for almost nothing, and I jumped on that to get one of the first real pictures of my fursona, as well as my first conbadge! As someone who arrived with nothing, I was quickly feeling more like a part of the crowd with these little trinkets.
There was a dance that night, and I remember doing my makeup to match my fursona's markings, as well as wearing some crazy cyberpunk stuff? It was all the rage back then, I swear! I'd never really danced before, but I remember just having fun with some friends and really getting into it and having a good time. Embarrassingly enough, I believe there's footage of this dance on YouTube somewhere, and I cringe when I see myself in it!

Because we were staying at a separate hotel, we had to leave in order to catch trains before they stopped running for the night. I remember feeling upset that I couldn't hang out until the wee hours of the morning with everyone else, and I've made a point of ensuring I stay at the convention hotel ever since!
On the way out, there was an artist (Noble-Idler) trading sketches for beer - he was already drunk enough, but did a sketch for me anyway which was nice. I remember really loving and cherishing that piece of art for a long time, as it meant a lot to me because of where it had come from.
Regrettably, all of the things I got from this convention have got lost to time and moving homes...

The next day of the convention was full of more socialising - I remember starting off in a makeshift gaming area, playing Street Fighter IV and Scott Pilgrim with others, which was great fun. It was here that I spent a lot of time with someone who I was only barely familiar with from my local meets, but they went on to become on of my best friends in the fandom for a few years. I got very close to the person who I was roomsharing with as well, coincidentally!
All I remember from the daytime is a lot of Nando's. Heck, I think I may have had Nando's for several meals in the same day, come to think of it! Not somewhere I usually frequent, so again I attach fond memories to it.

The evening was something special. There was a boat party arranged, and I had somehow remained oblivious until it happened. Probably almost a hundred fursuits, crammed into a boat with 3 levels, music blasting and drinks going around as the boat sailed back and forth along the Thames for a few hours. I remember dancing, drinking, and not an awful lot else! But I certainly remember feeling a level of euphoria and belonging like I never had before, feeling like I never wanted it to end as the boat pulled up at the end of the night.
The night ended with me having missed the last train back, having to scramble around London, lost and drunk until finally getting a taxi!

The final day of the convention was filled with the classic events, some kind of fursuit olympics, an art auction, and the closing ceremony. Though I don't care much for watching fursuits frolic these days, it was still quite a novelty to me back then, and I remember enjoying them perform. The art auction was fun, and though I didn't but anything myself it was entertaining to see how crazy things get in these events! It's something that's endured to this day, and I recommend you watch one yourself just to see how much money people throw at literal trash in the name of charity! As for the closing ceremony, I don't remember much besides all the staff getting on stage and stripping down to their underwear at the end? Wild.

Aftermath

Though it was relatively short and uneventful, I fondly reminisce over RBW as my first experience of a furry convention. Never before had I seen a community come alive like that, and it was really special to feel like I belonged to that amazing, fun group. I find myself always chasing that whimsical feeling, and though conventions are a lot of fun still, I don't think I'll ever get quite the same feeling again. I think partly that's down to it being a completely new experience at the time, and now I'm more familiar with what to expect from conventions.
Needless to say I'd caught the bug and I was ready to sign up for the next convention that came up, and they've become a staple part of my life ever since. I do fear that maybe I'm not getting quite as much enjoyment from them these days, but ever year I'm proven wrong and make fantastic new memories with people. After all, it's not the convention itself, but the people you meet and the things you do that make the memories!

Looking back, it's bittersweet to recall all the names and faces that were around me. With almost all of them, I've either lost touch, or they've moved on from the fandom all together. Back then, I thought that all the big names and personalities that I knew online were set in stone, but now it's really interesting to see how the furry community changes over time. People come and go, but the community as a whole unit stays relatively the same.
I think the main thing that chokes me up is that people who I met back then who I thought I'd get to share these experiences with forever eventually moved on. I don't think there's anyone who I was particularly close to back then who is still a part of my life. There are however people who I was less close to back then who have become better friends of mine? Having people to reminisce with is nice!

Another key thing that I hadn't really thought about, is that even though it was only 10 years ago, technology has had a massive impact on the way we socialise. I barely used a mobile phone back then, except for emergency contact - stable access to the Internet wasn't something I had, and I used to socialise mostly on forums and instant messengers rather than social media.
Whether that's responsible for how much I engaged with other people around me, and how much enjoyment I had, I'm not sure. I think it's an interesting observation to make how much of an impact group chats and the like have on people's convention experiences today, though.

Sadly, RBW in 2010 was the last time the convention ran. It still carries on in spirit though, as the boat parties continue at some London furmeets! They're still a lot of fun, but I found it a bit too much to travel all the way down to London for the party alone.

I never really thought how long I'd be a part of this community, and at the time 10 years in the future was almost impossible for me to imagine. The friends I made here were crucial to my formative years in the fandom, and though I miss them a lot I can't thank them enough for being the friends I needed at the time.
I've changed a lot over the last 10 years, and the furry community has offered me a safe space in which to embrace my feelings and express my true self. I don't think I could have become the person I am without such a caring and supportive environment.

So the question is... Will I still be part of the furry fandom in another 10 years? Will I still be attending conventions?
I sure hope so!
Though my place in the furry fandom has changed a lot, it will only continue to change with me. I don't think I'll ever feel out of place in this community, even as I approach being considered an "older" part of it!
And though I'm not sure what my part in the community will look like in 10 years, I'm sure that I'll still be happy to be a part of it.