Last Saturday, more than 100 mustachioed and bearded participants gathered in Wittersdorf, a town in eastern France, to strut their scruff at the 2012 European World Beard and M0ustache Championships. The competition’s more than 20 categories cover everything from the Amish beard to the Fu Manchu. We’re talking looks inspired by Rip Van Winkle and Curly Q’s, some of which require sticky tape to hold up.
While the competition is unusual, it’s been going on since 1990. The first event was held in a small, German village in the Black Forest: a group called the First Höfener Beard Club thought those with excellent facial hair should have a venue where they could proudly display their whiskers, and the first-ever World Beard and Moustache Championships were born. The second event was held in the neighboring city of Pforzheim in 1995. Ever since, contestants—anyone who can grow facial hair fitting to one of the contest’s categories—get together every 2 years to compete.
It wasn’t until 2003 in Carson City, Nevada, that festivities were held in America—something founder and self-appointed Captain of Beard Team USA, Phil Olsen, organized and waited years to see happen.
Olsen’s mustache-mission began in 1999, when he was vacationing in Sweden and heard that the World Championships were being held in the town of Ystad:
“When I wandered in, I was immediately enthralled by the spectacle I had never seen before or imagined existed. It was exciting to see that people were celebrating facial hair. In the states at the time, beards and sideburns were not especially popular and were kinda for hippies, kooks and communists,” Olsen says. “These guys took their facial hair seriously and had made bearding not only into a sport but also an art.”
When Olsen returned from his trip that year, he realized that this was a “sport” Americans should be participating in.
“It was overwhelming to me that this international event was going on and America was underrepresented,” he says. “I immediately realized what potential there was for this event to become a phenomenon beyond the group of people who were there and it became my mission.”
Historically, Olsen says, the event is German-dominated. There are between 10 and 12 beard clubs in that region alone and most of them are organized through the Association of German Beard Clubs (VDB). Until America got involved in 2003, members of the VDB always had the biggest representation.
“It’s crazy what people can do with their facial hair if they set out to do something with it,” he says. “America established itself as the premier power in world bearding at the 2009 event in Anchorage, but I have to say the Germans are still leaders in the freestyle category. It’s a whole art form these guys invented. There are a lot of Americans who are trying to discover their secrets, but the Germans are still the best at it no doubt.”
The next big beard-off will take place on a national level in downtown Las Vegas this November. So far, there are 130 competitors signed up from 34 of the 50 states, Olsen says. The winners of this competition may move on to next year’s World Championships which will take place on November 2, 2013, in Leinfelden-Echterdingen, Germany.