Jack Passion (left).

Santa Barbarians are no strangers to world-class competition. But Chuck Liddell can have his Ultimate Fighting Championship titles, and Todd Rogers his Olympic gold medals. As for me, I’ll take my chances at the World Beard and Moustache Championships.

Yes, on May 23, 2009, the small capitol village of Anchorage, Alaska will be buzzing with beards from all over the globe, as were Brighton, England, and Berlin, Germany in years past. Yet this time, compatriots, you can rest easy knowing that, finally, you shall be represented. [CORRECTION: Oh yea, Juneau is still the capitol of Alaska!]

The author digs into a hefty burger.

In fact, this year, all of America will be.

The WBMC takes place in an international city (like Berlin or Carson City, Nevada) every two years, so it’s like the Olympics except twice as awesome. Earlier competitions have been downright dominated by Brits and Germans – and those guys can really grow. But this time around, with more than one hundred hirsute Red, White, and Blue-bleeders signed up, rest assured, fellow citizens, 2009 is our year.

And just so you can join me in witnessing facial hair history, I’ll be updating this here Beard Blog the whole way through it.

A Little Background

The recent rise in facial hair’s popularity – even just in silly movies, at themed college parties, or on the pretentious upper lips of quasi-unique hipster kids – and its increasing acceptance in the work place has sprouted beard competitions in cultural centers around the nation, mostr notably in Austin and New York, and made loyal whisker-wearers out of many a man (and even one woman).

But uniting us all is one man: self-proclaimed “founder and self-appointed captain of Beard Team USA,” Phil Olsen.

After first attending a mostly American-less WBMC in Ystad, Sweden back in 1999, Captain Phil – who wears an inspiring long, full Civil War-esque beard himself – made it his personal quest to add international facial hair competitions to the list of things we rule at here in the Land of Freedom and French Fries.

Since then he has spent incalculable hours managing recruitment, public relations, communications, web design, event planning, lodging arrangement, international diplomacy, and anything else that needs to be done to make this thing happen, as well as keeping everyone in the very center of the loop with meticulously informative emails which reveal his legal background. Judging by the spike in membership, it’s paying off.

Now, Beard Team USA may still seem to you like an esoteric, exclusive club mostly comprised of facial-haired men, but in fact anyone can join. Yes, anyone. Take it from Phil:

“Membership is Beard Team USA is open to everyone. There are no dues, no applications, and no acceptance process. You don’t even need to have a beard or moustache to join. In fact, there are no known disadvantages to membership. If you wish to join, simply send an email to team captain Phil Olsen. Send a pic if you want and let me know where you are located. You’ll be added to the team roster and will receive team info by email. You can even print out your own membership card.”

For the record, I didn’t join; I was inducted. Last March, while representing community radio station KCSB 91.9 FM at the South By Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas, I happened to spot from my bus the breathtaking reddish sheen of 2007 World Beard Champion Jack Passion‘s unmistakable full, natural mane. I got off prematurely right there, shuffled over and introduced myself as a fan. Turned out, he dug my chops and, since his title vested him with such authority, with the sweep of his palm and utterance of a magical phrase, made me an official BTUSA beardsman there on the spot.

It was the defining moment of my life.

The Big Shindig

The official Big Day is May 23, 2009. But thanks to the efforts of Captain Phil and the South Central Alaska Beard and Moustache Club, Anchorage is opening its bear-like arms not just to BTUSA, but also the Australian Bushrangers, East Bavarian Beard Club, England’s Handlebar Club, and every rogue in between for a week of festivities.

The citizenry are hosting parties, guiding tours, and ushering us through museums. The city’s even throwing us a parade. And as for the esteemed panel of judges, it is said that one may be a certain governor. It isn’t confirmed, but keep your stache-hairs crossed.

Getting to Alaska is always a challenge. Most participants shall arrive via the standard planes, trains, automobiles, and ideally, for those certain moustache categories, hot air balloon. But for those of us with the time or willingness to blow off our worldly responsibilities, there’s the cruise.

The Beard Boat. The U.S.S Mane or the H.M.S. Queen Hairy. Really, it’s the Carnival Spirit, a weeklong cruise from Vancouver to Anchorage filled with happy families, contented old couples, and about 85 Garibaldis, Musketeers, Imperials, Sideburners, Freestylers, and other bedazzling, beer-drenched beards clogging the saunas, shuffleboard courts and hot tub drains.

It’s sillier, more fun, and – best of all – somehow cheaper than the alternatives. And if you make it a point to wolf down nearly $300 worth of all-you-can-eat steaks and 24-hour pizza, it actually pays for itself.

As For Me

As for representing you at the WBMC, Santa Barbara, well, I sure as shearin’ won’t win anything, or probably even place. But that’s only because my facial hair is extremely unimpressive. Like other local sportsmen – those who surf Rincon, or bump balls around East Beach, for example – I’m just in this thing for the camaraderie anyhow.

Amidst the six categories of moustache, seven of partial beards, and five of full beards (including the fans’ favorite, freestyle, in each division), I’ll be among the Sideburners. I don’t mean those dinky little things sported by Burt Reynolds or Elvis. I’m talking two massive, wooly briar patches joined via a moustache, which some folks call the “friendly mutton chops.”

H. H. Bancroft

The style is most often attributed to famous Union general, railroader, politico and gun builder Ambrose Burnside, but was also rocked by railroaders and stagecoach robbers, more prominently by the racist and questionably ethical historian H. H. Bancroft, and more genteelly by President Chester A. Arthur. Aside from Motrhead frontman Lemmy and the occasional Harley rider, the species has been fairly endangered for about 120 years.

Certainly, by Santa Barbara standards, my chops turn heads – sometimes out of awe for their unruliness, size, or anachronistic peculiarity, but mostly out of disgust, usually for the same reasons. Even so among the likes of Toot Joslin and the incredible Eric Brown, I’m just another Jonathan Livingston Sideburns.

And then there’s consistency; namely, my lack it. The lower bottom canopy of Righty is slightly less full than Leftie. It could be how I sleep, put on a shirt, sweat, or something; I’m not sure. But either way, my chops are like identical twin adult brothers, when one is really good at sports and gets all the girls while the other plays with yo-yos and works at a library.

But they’re there. And I’m going. Because I love America.

Stay tuned to this “Beard Blog” for updates from abroad – on subjects such as the categories, characters, and events to come – by me, your very own bewhiskered BTUSA representative.

Sure, you didn’t elect me, or even appoint me, but I’m all you’ve got. So wish me luck. Or, since that won’t really matter, at least a good time.

Tune into independent.com/beard for Blunden’s updates.


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