I’ve had a beard on and off for over a decade. I started growing it because I was lazy, honestly. I hated the expense of shaving cream and razors, and despised the act of shaving. I just didn’t have the time. It became something that defined me in many ways, helped me to stand out in a crowd.
Well, those days are long over. In recent years there have been more and more men growing facial hair, with beards and mustaches forming the basis for clubs across the world. Now, it’s almost as if it’s become a movement. Who knows why facial hair has become so accepted and widely appreciated. Maybe it’s a backlash against the Metrosexual fad of a decade ago. I’m just spitballing here. Either way, it’s now more than a fad, for many it’s a way of life.
Competitive Bearding began in Europe, though it’s disputed exactly where, but most believe it was in 1990 when the First Höfener Beard Club (1. Höfener Bartclub) held the first world championship in its hometown of Höfen/Enz in Germany. Over the years it has spread outward to other countries, with competitions in Ireland and Sacramento this past weekend alone. My brother competes, and has for the last few years, even going as far as the World Championships in Germany two years ago.
We had decided to make the trip up north to the Mustache and Beard Social Club hosted 4th Annual Northern California Mustache and Beard Competition in Old Town Sacramento at the California State Railroad Museum; him to compete, and me for support. I’ve been to smaller comps, here in Los Angeles, but had no idea what to expect from this one.
The thing is, it was a lot like a comic convention. The two scenes are eerily similar. The camaraderie displayed was awesome; everyone was accepted no matter their gender or follicular state. There was a young girl I met in line who had a beard, and was nervous about how people would react to her wanting to enter the competition. Guess what? She had the most applause of the evening, and won third place in her category. The only other place I’ve been where people were as accepting are comic conventions.
Bonds were formed within minutes of meeting, with friendships growing as the weekend progressed. I’ve seen this before, when my brother was in a motorcycle accident and the beard world stepped up, hosting a fundraiser to help with medical bills. I’ve seen the same when a comic creator is in need, with fans and other creators donating time and money to help out of a shared love of the medium.
And then there’s cosplay, though I’m guessing those in costume wouldn’t have called it that. There were so many creative people dressing up in period costumes, as a Van Gogh painting, or a viking. Just like a convention, those guys, and girls, were stopped for photo opportunities everywhere they went, and had a great time showing off their creativity. Every minute just felt more and more like my Con experiences.
And the competition itself was almost six hours of men and women prancing around on stage, working the crowd, and having a blast. The competition was comprised of 15 categories, with only three wins in each, and that competition was fierce! There were over 20 competitors in the Full Beard Under 12 Inches category alone! There was even a category for the ladies, the Whiskerina, and they might have been the most fun group!
There were crazy times; the bearded Speedo contest by the pool stands out in my mind as one of the silliest things I’ve ever seen outside of San Diego in the summer. There were fun times; late night drunken pizza parties by the hotel pool, dance parties outside of the bar, and brunch on the morning after with 30 or so of the funnest people around. These were people from all walks of life, coming from all over the country to share their love of facial hair. Replace facial hair with comics or film and you’ll see what I mean. And just like a good comic con, there was booze. Lagunitas and Pabst Blue Ribbon sponsored the event, with proceeds going to PAWS.
I see so many men at conventions with amazing facial hair, and I wonder if they know about this other world that is a lot like theirs. Just like comics, growing a beard used to be a solitary endeavor, but again, just like comics, with more and more people into it it becomes more mainstream, bringing like minded people together out of a shared love for something. Competitive Bearding brings together so many aspects of what this website is about, so the next time you hear of a competition, check it out. I may not have grown my beard to compete, but next year? I’d better start thinking of a costume.
Here are a couple of galleries. Enjoy!
Photos by Erik Fritts. See many more at www.erikfritts.com
Photos by Greg Schoenwolf. See more at his Facebook page.
Photos by Dan Herrera. See more at http://danherrerastudio.com/home.html