As a father of four sons, I had always said that when each turned 21 I would take them on a holiday. In the case of my oldest son Zeke, who loves a punt, I hoped to take him to Las Vegas.
As a coincidence, the location of America’s third annual National Beard and Moustache Championship was announced as being held in Las Vegas! Talk about killing two birds with one stone.
I had recently created Australia’s only dedicated beard and moustache club and thought that representing our country and club was a beaut idea. Since 2008, I had gotten to know many of the competitors through MySpace. In the past year I was very active on Facebook, getting to know as many people attending as possible. (With over 900 beard and beard-loving friends I may have been too successful in this task…)
Well, what can one say that has not already been said about Las Vegas? It is fast-paced and home to every kind of character imaginable. How would it cope with the addition of hundreds of hairy men descending upon its hotels?
We decided to stay at three hotels for three nights each: the Excalibur, Golden Nugget and MGM Grand. The competition centred around the Golden Nugget on Freemont St in an area known as ‘downtown’. It has the Freemont experience: a five block long arch canopy 27m high which has 12 million LED lights. During the opening ceremony of the championships the lights contained images of the competition logos.
Upon arrival at the Golden Nugget we found the place filled with hirsute gentlemen of all types. Once we had checked in we went straight to the beard registration area. Whilst there I was interviewed by a crew that I believe was working for a sponsor, Just For Men. This was my first opportunity to shake hands with some of the men and women I had met online. It was a strange but warm feeling to hear my name called out by people I had never met in person until now.
Checking to ensure that competitors were in the correct category was done at the registration area rather than at the event. This proved to be a time-saving decision. I was checked and given the OK for my section of ‘Partial Beard/Natural Goatee’. A gent who was competing alongside me was told he had to shorten his side burns to qualify.
Once settled in the room, I ventured out to meet everyone who by now had spread out into Freemont St but were easy to find due to their beards…
PASSION FOR POKER
The first organised activity was a poker tournament. I was not playing but bankrolled my son to give it a shot. While the game was progressing I met the famous Jack Passion who sports one of the biggest beards you will ever see. Jack is also one of the stars of a TV show called Whisker Wars. I gave him a souvenir koala key ring, as these had proven very popular among the Americans.
Many of us then went into a nightclub attached to the Golden Nugget, known as Gold Diggers. Here I managed to chat with people I had only known on Facebook and really enjoyed the experience. It was funny watching beard club stickers being attached to sections of the bar without the barman realising.
A HAIR-RAISING WELCOME
During the opening ceremony, several men sporting their ‘world champion beards’ stood on a stage alongside the captain of Beard Team USA and the man behind this competition, Phil Olsen, as he welcomed the crowd and explained how the championships worked.
One woman in the crowd spotted my Australian vest (I had my denim vest embroidered on the rear with the words ‘Aussie Beard’ and ‘Australian Beard and Moustache Club’). She asked if I was pretending to be an Australian, and if I knew what ‘walkabout’ meant. Once I answered it was all clear: I truly must be an Australian.
Among the crowd were many street performers. There was one chap dressed like Alan in The Hangover – unfortunately he picked a bad day to wear a fake beard.
THE BEARDS DIVE IN
Around lunch time there was an informal pool party at the Golden Nugget. Can you imagine what fun the pool cleaner had after so many hairy blokes entered the water…?
As I was enjoying a relaxing swim I was spotted by a lady named Sugar June; she was responsible for a charity calendar in which I was Mr September. When she saw me she jumped into the pool fully clothed! I have never had such a splendid reception before.
Many big names in the world of bearding were there, including Aarne Bielefeldt, but not all were game enough to brave the cool water. Once out of the pool I was heading back to my room when I saw a photo being taken of Aarne and Bryan Nelson of Whisker Wars fame, as well as two other big beards. I somehow managed to end up in the photo, towel and all.
A HAIRY PROCESSION
It was decided that the procession of competitors would be from the Bellagio fountains to the Venetian, along the Strip. I believe the purpose of this was to gain publicity for the competition (as these are two palatial establishments, I would have thought we had more chance of attracting potential spectators back downtown where beards were more likely to be welcome). We collected our Australian flag and I also carried a small ‘Aussie Aussie Aussie’ one. The people in the streets looked at us wondering what this was all about and took a copious amount of photos as we passed.
MEET THE WHISKERINAS
The Whiskerinas was the brainchild of a very lovely woman named Tessa Bischoff. The women have their own competition the night before the men and what an event it is! Each woman can and usually does enter several categories (they are fake beards and moustaches in case anyone is wondering…). The night was full of laughter and, despite the freezing night air, was a huge success.
THE BATTLE BEGINS
The championships were held at the Clark County Amphitheatre in Las Vegas. Sponsors had set up their displays and the people from Just For Men gave me two packets of their beard product to remove the grey (I did not have the heart to tell them that I like the salt and pepper look). There seemed to be no rush so I wandered about and found an area inside where yet more photos were being taken. Naturally I had mine taken however I have no idea what became of all these photos, perhaps they will turn up somewhere someday. The restrooms were close by and I thought it might be wise to go then; as I entered I found all these bearded gents who were sporting ‘freestyle’ beards being groomed. A young lady was sitting there on the bench assisting while patrons used the urinals, oblivious to her presence.
Afterwards, the beards and moustaches all lined up behind their country or state flags. I was second in line as a country and as I walked out through the crowd they played Waltzing Matilda, which I thought was a nice touch. Each country and state had a song played for them too.
Slowly but surely the stage filled with so many flags and gents with facial hair that I become lost in the sea of follicles. We eventually dispersed and the competition began. Phil explained to the judges what they should be looking for in a beard or moustache (mind you, I think they preferred the costumes over the fullness of the beards in the end).
The moustache categories were the first to compete and there were so many that I still had time to panic about the state of my own beard. I checked it in the reflection of the window and thankfully the wind outside did not mess it up.
Our category of ‘Natural Goatee’ did not allow styling aids of any kind. This caused some controversy as one competitor had to change categories because his long goatee contained 60 elastic bands which were considered ‘aids’. As it turned out he entered the Freestyle category and won.
There were about 20 of us goatees and we lined up behind the stage. Some last minute grooming was done via the assistance of a lady named Karolina who wears a utility belt of grooming aids. I thought that I would be nervous but that turned out not to be the case. I guess I did not really expect to place so it was not such a worry. Then a couple of my competitors commented that they had no chance after looking at my beard. Was I actually in with a shot after all?
I was second off the blocks (the first was wishing we could switch places and I do not blame him – who wants to be first out in front of a big crowd?).
I had been warned by a mate that the Americans may not take too kindly to an Aussie trying to challenge them. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Perhaps it was all those posts I did on bearded Facebook groups that made me just one of the boys. Whatever the reason, the welcome I received when I walked out was bigger than I could have dreamed of and I wished my son Zeke was there and not lying in bed at the hotel suffering from the flu.
I walked past the judges and to the front of the stage – perhaps a bad move in that I did not stop and let the judges see my beard fully. I was not even thinking of them; rather I was looking out into a sea of faces trying to figure out who was cheering me on. There were so many that I just raised my replica of Ned Kelly’s helmet and smiled. Yes, I was carrying a replica of Ned’s famous armoured helmet. It was made by a friend named Joe who lives in my town. I knew that most Americans had no idea what it represented but regardless I wanted a piece of Australiana with me.
There were two sections for us due to the numbers involved. The judges did their scoring, selected a number of us from this group and I was fortunate enough to be among them. The second batch came out and a selection of that group also stayed back. It was then the highest scoring of these two which decided the first three places. I did not place in the end, but came somewhere around fourth place I believe.
There were over 400 competitors and 18 categories so the event went on into the night. The favourite section for most is the Full Beard; this year it was won by Neil Moherman.
GROW A BEARD, MAKE SOME FRIENDS
I have never been in such a beard friendly town as Las Vegas. I have no idea why it was so; it could be that sales staff needed something to gain your attention and what better way than asking about the beard.
However it was not just that, I had people I never knew high-five me and say “nice beard”. One chap passing on a travelator yelled that he liked how my beard split, “like the legs of an exotic dancer”.
As I walked passed a group of young people a woman of around 20-odd whispered to me “I love you” as she looked at my beard. I was unsure of what my reaction should be; was that her boyfriend behind her? I could be the same age as her father, so should I say anything at all? Considering we were walking in opposite directions there was no reply from me other than a smile.
One lady even asked if she could feel my beard – that has never happened before and I was very happy. I could not believe this place; at home I get no comments at all!
It was worth the expense of the long haul flights. I had a great time, not just at the actual competition but also in meeting so many people that I had only known as faces on the internet. No longer did I have to sit here and watch as they enjoyed yet another activity without me.
When will I be back? Initially I thought that this may be a one-off, however, after the fun I had I am looking at my next adventure with my beard.
It was mentioned in a previous edition of ManSpace about the lack of interest in Australia to become a member of a club for facial hair. That may be the case, but we are slowly turning that around with our club – it may take time but we will get there.
And that, my friends, is how an Australian saw the National Beard and Moustache Championships in America.