Beard science

Hairy-faced people from across the globe gear up for The World Beard and Mustache Championships

Photo Illustration by David Jayne

Competitors are warming-up—and trimming up—for The World Beard and Mustache Championships to be held Nov. 1 in Carson City. This is the first time this biennial event has been held outside Europe, and it’s drawing contestants from at least eight countries and from all around the United States. The event has attracted attention in international papers like The Times of India and The Sun of London, despite a dearth of local media coverage.

“I had originally wanted to bring it to Las Vegas, but in many ways Carson is a better fit; it’s a smaller, funkier town,” says organizer, participant and Tahoe City resident Phil Olsen. “Plus, the idea of the Wild West is really appealing to the Germans and the other Europeans.”

The event began in Germany in 1990 and was initially organized by the First Hofener Beard Club, one of Germany’s many illustrious beard clubs. Subsequent events were held in Norway and Sweden, and future world championships are already in the works for Berlin in 2005 and London in 2007.

Excitement for this year’s championship has been building internationally. It’s been generated through Olsen’s many radio interviews, including on Australian and Canadian radio stations and an interview with Robert Siegel on NPR’s All Things Considered. Olsen’s Web site,, an informative and entertaining site with pictures of previous years’ champs and contestants, is also spawning enthusiasm. The site was picked as Yahoo’s site of the day on Sept. 25, 2003, and the hit counter is now close to 400,000.

There are 17 different beard and mustache categories to compete in: eight kinds of mustache (everything from the handlebar to the Dalí to the Fu Manchu); four partial-beard categories (including goatee and sideburns); and five types of full beard. First-, second- and third-prize trophies are awarded for each category. Additional trophies are awarded to the farthest-traveling contestant, the youngest contestant and the people’s favorite. But Olsen says that every competitor will get a certificate and some sort of prize.

This year, the event is affiliated with the Nevada Day celebration, and all contestants are encouraged to march in the parade on Saturday. There will also be a public Halloween party on Friday, at the Big Red’s Old 395 Grill in Carson City.

The championship will take place at the Carson City Community Center. Joy Mishiel will host, and the Al Gruber Band will play live music. This year’s judges, who will consider such factors as length, fullness, color and presentation, include Nevada Supreme Court Justice Deborah Agosti, Carson City Mayor Ray Masayko, Miss Nevada Christina O’Neil and former Carson City resident Mark Twain (as portrayed by MacAvoy Lane).

Many contestants dress in costumes—often traditional garb, such as lederhosen—in order to distinguish their beards properly. Though rivalries can sometimes be fierce, most of the participants primarily attend for the camaraderie and are fairly light-hearted about the proceedings. However, Olsen warns that some of the Germans are “way too serious” about the event.

“For most of the participants, part of the fun is to act really serious—but, in reality, they take the whole thing fairly lightly,” Olsen says. “However, there are a few who just don’t get that.”

It seems to be an aim of some of the more easy-going contingents to taunt their more serious competitors. In a recent interview with The Sun, Ted Hedman, president of London’s Handlebar Club, was quoted as saying: “The Germans take it very seriously. Some take personal hairdressers. We meet up with friends and have a few beers. But we’d love to beat the Germans, as they want to win so badly.”

Other contestants among the many (more than 100) who have already registered include a Southern Californian with a 10-foot-long mustache, as well as the returning 2001 full-beard freestyle world champion, Willi Chevalier of Germany. But sadly, one demographic group that is not yet represented among the contestants is women. Not that there would be a problem if any bearded ladies wanted to sign up.

“Unlike the Olympics, we’re not testing for gender,” says Olsen. “People often ask if we have a category for women. We don’t because women are welcome to enter in any category. The World Beard and Mustache Championships don’t discriminate on the basis of race, religion, nationality or gender.”

Another demographic that is surprisingly underrepresented is Nevadans.

“There are more registered competitors from New York than Nevada,” says Olsen. But fear not, applications are still being accepted in every category. If you’ve got the goods, log on to Olsen’s Web site, check out some of the competition and pay the $25 registration fee. Spectator tickets are also available online for $10. Perhaps a local could pull an upset win over three-time Wild West mustache world champion Gunter Rosin of the German Club Belle Mustache.

Olsen, who sports a long, natural full beard, has good-humored advice on how to help a beard grow: “Do nothing. Beard-growing is the ultimate non-activity.” And advice on beard hygiene: “Don’t eat ice cream cones. If you’re going to eat ice cream, you have to eat it out of a bowl.”

Olsen also helps clarify why some men are attracted to beard-growing.

"[The bearded person] is someone who doesn’t care to have society dictate to him what he should look like. A bit of a rebel. Beards are often associated with revolutionaries, Karl Marx, for instance. Recently, because of Osama bin Laden, there has been some discrimination against the bearded—people actually come up to me and say, ‘Hey, Osama!'—which is unfortunate. But for any negative icon that you can name, I can bring up any number of positive role models who are usually associated with beards: Abraham Lincoln, for example. Jesus Christ. And Santa Claus. How are you going to argue with those three?"