Friday, April 8, 2005

To goatee or not to goatee?

Beard and Mustache Championship is held in Ketchum

Express Staff Writer

Mike Ames takes a gander at his first publication. Photo by David N. Seelig

In 2003, a friend sent Ketchum resident and writer for the Mountain Express Mike Ames a link to a World Beard and Mustache site. There was a big event coming up in Carson City, Nev. So, he went.

That event drew 123 competing delegates from 12 states and 11 countries. Present was the oldest competitor Alf Jarrald, 82, of the legendary Handlebar Club in London, formed in 1947. He kissed Ames' girl.

From there Ames has been on a mission to complete a book on the world of Beard and Mustaches competitions and to host a competition in his own backyard. The wish fulfillment is at hand. His book has been published and the first Idaho Beard and Mustache competition is being held in Ketchum, on Saturday, April 9, sponsored by Iconoclast Books. Unlike the Carson City competition, "This will be a much more laid-back event," he said.

I sat down with the facial hair impresario recently to discuss his new passion.

Dana DuGan: How did this come about?

Mike Ames: The Web site looked outrageous and entertaining. I thought if nothing else, it would be a good spectacle, but I hoped I could get work out of it. So, I went down on spec. Between Ketchum and Hailey, a gravel truck dropped some gravel that shattered my windshield. We almost didn't make it. But my girlfriend was insistent on seeing these bearded men, so we got it fixed in Twin Falls and kept going.

There were a ton of photographers there and documentary filmmakers. But only one or two writers, who didn't stay. I got to know Stone Roberts and Phil Olsen, who owned the rights for the event. They asked me to write a script for a documentary, but that didn't pan out, so they asked me to write a pitch for the book, which we pitched to McMillan in London.

This whole beard and mustache craze is much more popular in Europe. There are a lot of clubs in England and Germany. It hasn't really caught on in the states yet, though there are some clubs like the Whisker Club of Washington.

DD: You're growing muttonchops, not a 'stache. What's up with that?

MA: I am genetically incapable of growing a mustache or beard, so I'm growing sideburns instead.

DD: You're showing your solidarity with the movement.

MA: That's it, it's a movement. I haven't shaved in a month and you realize the devotion that goes into these things. I have a Shakespeare quote: "He that hath a beard is more than a youth, he that hath no beard is less than a man."

The book is mostly a gift book and a novelty, but in the back there are essays. One is on why the Germans are so into this. My theory is that it has something to do with Kaiser Wilhelm and the period between the wars when Germany was an expanding colonial power. I think they remember those years fondly. I've interviewed mustachioed Germans and they always mention Kaiser Wilhelm.

DD: The guys pictured in the book were all in Carson?

MA: Most of them. To go there was amazing. You're walking along in a hotel and a guy is walking down the hall with facial hair styled out so wide, two feet off his face on either side, and he had to turn sideways to let you pass. They're real friendly. Some are very competitive. Most are in this just for fun and an excuse to get together and drink.

But Phil now represents the World Federation of Beard Clubs, which is all the non-German clubs. It's sort of Germany versus the world. They want to keep the rules very strict. They want to win every event. Phil is joining up with the Italians, Brits and Swedes to make in more international and inclusive. He'll be a judge here along with some valley residents. He has a big beard and is a real judge in Nevada.

DD: How is this competition going to work?

MA: It's a sanctioned event but this is going to be much less formal and fun. Contestants will be judged on the complete package. If you arrive in street clothes and are a boring dresser, you probably won't win. The categories are styled mustache, natural mustache, long beard, short beard, goatee, side burns, creative design and the Smith Sport Optics mustache-in-a-month. That's Smith's encouragement to local guys who just want to participate. They have to have grown it in a month.

DD: How do you verify that?

MA: We'll be using the honor code. The $10 entry gets you beer. All mustache events include beer. The money goes to a cash prize for the winner with a portion going to the Animal Shelter, a Whiskers helping Whiskers program.

DD: Good one. It's at Outabounds on Saturday?

MA: Outabounds Lounge in Warm Springs at 3:30 p.m. après ski. The costumes can be anything from retro ski to Wild West, the book has all kinds of ideas.

It's a fun event, with camaraderie, and men joining together in the name of the mustache for conviviality and a general sporting attitude. There'll be first, second and third, and then there'll be a Best in Show.

DD: Too bad Chris Guest can't be a judge.

MA: If I knew him. But each winner will get prizes that lots of local businesses have donated. Whoever wins this event can hopefully use his prize to go to the world event in Berlin this fall. This is the only one in the states right now. We have people coming from Tahoe and Pocatello and maybe the Olympic Peninsula.

There's no Sole Fest this year and everybody is sort of itching to put on stupid clothes, go ski and hang out with their friends. It couldn't be a better opportunity to get dressed up and have some fun.

DD: What's your personal feeling about facial hair?

MA: That it's a commitment. It's like training a pet. It requires commitment and sometimes sacrifice. Facial hair has to be trained, you see after a while what you have to do with it. Anyone can participate. You don't have to have a professional level style.

DD: Where is the book available?

MA: Iconoclast Books is the only place you can get the book in the country. It will be for sale at the event. Also there'll be a DVD on the World Championships called "A Harmony of Curves."

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