Beardos In the Big Easy

by Nate "Chops" Johnson on October 18, 2013

in EVENTS, ME AND..., PICTURES, SHALL WE?, TRAVEL

Nashville_WinnerPhoto_2013 croppedHere it is. The first day of the 3 day weekend dedicated to the facial hair carnival that is the National Beard and Mustache Championships. Location: New Orleans, Louisianna, Aka, The Big Easy, NOLA, ‘Nawlins.

Checking into the hotel, I see faces full of facial hair I’ve never met but we all nod at each other because even though we don’t know one another, we know the reason we are all here. Because of our facial hair…and that national championship trophy.

No time to concern myself with that now, though. It is time to grab any beardo to be found on the way out of the hotel and step out into the city to explore. Several of us roam New Orleans looking for a good place to eat, and run into even more beardos walking around. We all hang for a bit, eat local food, hop a bar or 4, hit Bourbon street and “win” some beads…traditionally, but call it an early night, and head back to the hotel by 2am for a few hours sleep before we all wake up and start getting ready for the competition.

Competition morning: It’s like kids waking up on Christmas for Beardos. No one minds waking up early today. We are all eager to run downstairs to see what awaits us in the days events.

I’m with my weekend roommates Adam and Alana (gotta keep those travel expenses down!). Being a girl, Alana will need less time to get ready than the two beardos in the room. She sleeps while Adam and I negotiate bathroom time so that we both have access to the mirror and hair dryer as we need it.

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It’s time to prepare my chops for the competition. I grab all the tools I’m going to need: hairdryer, hair spray (I swear by Got 2 B Glu’d brand…as most beardsmen do), and a pristine, folded black cloth packet containing combs of every variety that Dexter Morgan could be proud of…if he were a beardsmen.

I flare both muttonchops back and down to give a sort of windblown look. To me they look more like wings, but people joke a lot that it looks like I was riding a motorcycle and sprayed my chops into place. And for some reason they seem to frequently draw a comparison to Farrah Fawcett/Charlie’s Angels, which has happened three times already in the 24 hours I have been in New Orleans.

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Many people ask how long it takes me to flare my chops and apparently expect an answer like ‘an hour’ or some other huge chunk of time, because they are always surprised when I say that it takes me 20 minutes at the most. That’s if I have to redo one of them or some other catastrophic event happens like running out of hair spray. My usual time is about 15 minutes to complete the process.

The style itself was quite an accident when I discovered it. My chops had grown far beyond their original, much shorter, “Wolverine” length and I really had no idea what to do with them or how to fix them for competitions, or if should fix them at all – going natural/unsprayed is always an option. One day as I was brushing conditioner into my beard (this beardo conditions on the daily), I brushed the hairs a certain way and they took on a cool shape and easily sat in place. I carefully grabbed my hairspray and sprayed them to see if they’d hold. They did. I’ve been doing the same style ever since. I seem to have discovered something unique, and I appreciate the comments and compliments about my style, but it was all a complete accident.

Chops concrete, windproof and ready, I put on my outfit. This time, because we are in ‘old world’ New Orleans, I go with an 1800’s bartender look. All sepia tone colors, except for the red stripes on my apron, and my rusty red fox tail.

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Right as 10am hits and we are all supposed to be gathered in the lobby for the parade of beards about to take place down Bourbon St, I’m ready to go. Everything is in place; my beard, my costume, my nerves, and I’m ready to walk out the door.

We gather for announcements of how the event will go. First order of business, to walk over to the House of Blues from the hotel via Bourbon st. As we parade, New Orleans natives, business owners, and employees, all step out to greet us, take pics and join the celebration. But of course, this being the South and early September, though it is 69 degrees outside, the humidity is thick…and that’s when the comments from grown men who are frazzled because their stache wax is melting begins. I don’t mean to make fun of these guys, because I can completely relate (with my sprayed style, I’m nowhere to be found when the wind is blowing). It’s just the contradiction that makes me laugh – grown men openly worried about the finest details of their appearance.

We arrive at the House of Blues finally, and everyone wants to know one of two things: Where is the green room, and can we get beer now?
The competitors holding area is full and alive. We can all finally clearly see the challengers from our respective categories, the facial hair styles guys are competing with and each others’ outfits in the comfort of air conditioning.

Watching a room full of men compliment each other on their outfits and accessories, especially if the accessory is a monocle, bow staff, or some steampunk-type lazer phaser, is simply hilarious.

The greenroom is full of, what I call “groommates” helping each other out with styling and spraying – guys nervous their curls will fall or points will fray, needing help from a buddy to make sure everything is in check, as stray and errant hairs are sacrificed to the scissor blades and wavy hairs are flat ironed and sprayed into obedience.

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The show begins and the crowd’s energy is high. Cheers for every competitor. Jeers for when it’s perceived the judges get it wrong.
Each competitor is judged on the spot. If there is a tie, and there are several, then these competitors go a second round to break it.

My category is coming up soon, so I make my way to the greenroom for one last check on my chops and to make sure I don’t have BBQ sauce on my face from the lunch I just ate. BBQ Sauce…every beardsman’s worst nightmare…aside from gum…or fire.

I stand in line at the stage door waiting for my name to be announced. I am the second person called, and this is where I go blank slightly. I always tend to go a little blank at competitions when I go on stage. I always remember walking up to the stage, and I remember walking off, but whatever happens during actual stage time is always a bit of a blur. (Side note: this ‘blanking out’ is not alcohol related in the least. It’s nerves.)

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My category, Sideburns, has some very serious competition. There are several men up there with thick and well suited chops. Yes mine are generally bigger than most and have won awards before, but I never really know what’s going to happen until all the judging is over. So I am quite shocked when I win first place for that category!

The final category is the Best In Show category, where all 1st place medalists are called back to the stage for one last round of voting. The winner will be selected by audience applause. The prize? One thousand dollars in cash!

I feel confident that I have a good shot at this after a day of compliments and having just gotten a perfect score in my category. I might just take the grand prize home. And as all the 1st place medalists gather on stage, 4 of the 18 finalists are singled out to be voted on by the audience and I am one of them.

The MC comes down the line and asks the audience to cheer for each contestant. The cheers got louder for each person. I have to say, I am a little overwhelmed at the volume level of cheers that I get. Wow! To have that many people scream for you is a huge compliment. I guess this is how rock stars feel. But then, the MC moves on to the next contestant, Jeff Langum, and the goes absolutely nuts! He wins by a landslide and it is a well deserved win. Look at that beard! He’s the Lion King!

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(Jeff Langum wins Best in Show @ the 2013 National Beard and Mustache Championships; Photo courtesy Oana Langum)

Nate Johnson (Sr. Contributing Editor, Los Angeles)

Nate “Chops" Johnson currently holds more than a dozen competitive bearding titles, including 6, 1st place victories, and 2 for Best In Show. He lives in Los Angeles, and enjoys Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

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