By: Nick Castillo, Sara Eunice Martinez, Kaylee Nemec
Music blared, drinks flowed freely and hair filled the Mohawk on Feb. 20.
Nearly 1,000 people packed the downtown Austin venue for the 10th annual Come and Shave It beard competition.
The Come and Shave It event, which is organized by the Austin Facial Hair Club, is one of largest beard competitions in the country. The 2016 event attracted more than 220 competitors from all around the United States and the world.
Kevin Becker, from East Haven, Connecticut, finished in third place in the beard under a foot category and said he came to the event because of its magnitude in the beard community.
“I just started competing last year and I heard this was a very big competition so me and a couple other guys from Connecticut, we all came down,” Becker said. “It’s been great.”
Both the Austin Facial Hair Club and the Come and Shave It event have grown in their first 10 years. The club started with four members and now has 50 dedicated members. The original event was started by Misprint magazine, a now defunct publication, and was held at Club de Ville, which is now Cheer Up Charlies. The event quickly outgrew its old venue and moved to the larger Mohawk.
Bryan Nelson, president of the Austin club and one of the original four founders, said the event originally began as a spoof but grew in popularity. He said the city quickly embraced the event.
“I think Austin has always been a beardy place,” Nelson said. “It’s always been a more of relaxed lifestyle in Austin. You can go into a restaurant and see them in a T-shirt and jeans or something like that. The beard culture itself is pretty strong. Normally guys get pretty proud of their beard. It’s kind of fun to celebrate them.”
Brett Strauss, commissioner of the Facial Hair League, which helps clubs organize beard competitions, said the key to the Come and Shave It event is its dedication to philanthropy. Strauss said most of the beard clubs are set up around raising money for non-profit causes. “If it was just about the beards, I don’t think there would so much commitment and so many people traveling the way they do,” Strauss said.
Nelson said that both the club and the Come and Shave It event have helped multiple charities over the past 10 years. He said they’ve helped with Wounded Warriors, SXSW Cares and the Austin Animal Center, among others.
“We just try to help out community where we can,” Nelson said. “We try to keep it real in Austin. We’re not registered as non-profit but we operate like a non-profit … We just try to have fun and ‘Keep Austin Beard.’”
The charity aspect of the event is important, but the fun keeps the event going. Strauss said he enjoys going to the Austin event because it’s one of the biggest competitions of the year. He also said the time he spends at beard competitions remind him of his college days.
“For me it’s like going back to college for the weekend,” Strauss said. “My mother-in-law watches my kids. I take my wife. We head out of town. And we go and hang out with some wonderful people and drink beer and have fun. It’s just like going back to college. I really enjoy spending time with these people.”
The Austin club and event has helped the beard community grow and “Kept Austin Beard” for the past 10 years and they’re being rewarded for it. Austin will host the World Beard and Mustache Championships in 2017, which Nelson is excited about.
“It’s been years in the making,” Nelson said.
Graphic Maps by: Kaylee Nemec
How Beards are Judged: A Q&A with Facial Hair League commissioner Brett Strauss
Understanding how a beard competition works is confusing. To help shave the nitty-gritty, Facial Hair League commissioner Brett Strauss discussed how competitions work.
Strauss, a former beard competition judge, discussed a variety of beard competition topics to help get a better understanding of how judging works, what judges look for and much more.
Q: How does judging work?
A: “It’s kind of like Olympic style judging, where each competitor is given a score between seven and 10 on the half-point: 7.5, 8, 8.5. You’re picking the first, second and third out of your final group for each category and you submit it and everything is calculated.”
Q: How does fan-voting work?
A: “The fan-voting is something we call ‘fantasy facial hair,’ which is like fantasy football where instead of picking players that’ll play the best, you’ll pick competitors. You’re going to pick the ones that you think are going to win first, second and third in each category. The closer you are to matching the judges themselves, the more points you get.”
Q: How many beard categories are there?
A: “I would say there are probably around 24 standard categories and there a probably just as many unique categories. The standard categories can include mustache, natural mustache, freestyle mustache, chops, beards, many different categories. Then you have the unique categories, which are things like some clubs will do world’s worst beard. Some people will do Texas red beard, salt-and-pepper for the gray and white beards. So there are some fun ones out there.”
Q: Which categories have the most competitors?
A: “Most competitions, you’re going to get 50 percent of your competitors competing in two categories. It really depends on how the clubs set them up. Usually, it’s, if you’ve got an under-12 inch full beard natural – that’s a very large group of people that have 12-inch or shorter beards. That’s probably going to be your largest group. Then, I’d say the second largest would be the 12-inch or over 12-inch full beard.”
Q: What do judges look for when judging?
A: “It depends. If you’re going for a full-beard natural then basically what you’re saying is it’s someone that does not do any type of cutting, shaving, cleaning up. It’s kind of an unruly set of people. These are people that don’t shave the cheek. They don’t shave under their neck. They just kind of let it absolutely go. So in that case, you’re actually looking for people that are more unkempt. You’re looking for length. Obviously, you want the beard to healthy. Volume helps as well. If you’re looking at another category like styled, or best-groomed beard, then you’re doing the exact opposite. You’re actually looking for people that have perfect beard shapes and have cleaned the cheek up. They have perfect straight lines that are matching.”
Photos by: Kaylee Nemec
Moovly created By: Sara Eunice Martinez
Film By: Sara Eunice Martinez