I Am a Beardsman

by Nate "Chops" Johnson on August 27, 2013

in COLUMNS, ME AND...

Photo by: Brandon Lavoie
Article_Cover_Photo_Aug2013

My name is Nathan Johnson.

In the bearding world, I’m known as “Chops Johnson.” I currently hold 12 titles, including 5, 1st place victories; 2nd place in the 2012 National Beard and Mustache Championships, and 2 for Best In Show. All for my sideburns.

I am a beardsman.

As I approach the 2nd anniversary of my first competition, I decided to reflect and maybe pinpoint why it is, exactly, that I enter into what are essentially beauty pageants for men – dog and pony shows for the hirsute human male to show off his genetic abilities. Because to be honest, I had no intention of entering another facial hair contest beyond that first one. And now, here I am two years and ten competitions later, with no end in sight for the near future. Why?

Photo by: Mary Lou Sandler
LABMC_WinnerPhoto_2011 cropped

My first competition and first win. This will always be my favorite trophy.

Two years ago, I entered my first beard competition here in Los Angeles. I came across the ad for the competition on Facebook, and I thought to myself,  “This is just goofy and weird enough for me to do.” There seemed to be an underlying sense of humor about it all. It’s a facial hair contest. How can the idea of that not make you smile?

It was held at the Federal Bar in the North Hollywood Arts District of LA on a Sunday afternoon in August. I remember  it was scorching hot that day for two reasons: first, because I was extremely sweaty in the photos I took in front of the original “Karate Kid” Cobra Kai dojo (Strike first! Strike hard! No mercy, sir!) just down the block from where the competition was being held; second, when I got in line, the guys that wax their ‘staches up were freaking out about their curls going limp in the heat and getting very impatient with the pace of the entry line. It was comic.

I had no idea what I was walking into that day – basically a carnival for facial hair. There were 3 foot beards, extra long goatees, bicycle mustaches with giant loops, costumes to compliment each look and style of facial hair, and a ladies category (it’s arts and crafts…not hormonal. Don’t worry!). Nor did I have any idea it would introduce me to some of the best friends I have in my life.

I went alone and didn’t know anyone there. I was quiet and kept to myself when I walked in. I had met a few of the contestants for about a half hour the night before at the meet and greet for the competition, but outside of that, I was there with 300 strangers. I didn’t even show up in my stage costume. I carried my hat and jacket and only put them on after I got there, once I made sure this wasn’t some weird scene and I saw that everyone else had a stage costume as well.

My costume? I decided for a ‘dapper punk’ look. I wanted a mix of classy with my own daily style: Top hat, tux shirt, ribbon bow tie, monocle, tuxedo coattails, my trusty Levi 501s, and classic Converse shoes (I am now, and will always be a Chucks man!).

I originally intended to bring a full beard to the competition. My beard grows very thick, but only had about 2 inches length on it at the time and I knew I’d be competing with 3 foot beards, including world champion, Jack Passion’s. So the day before, I decided to carve my beard into “Wolverine chops” so that I’d have a unique style to compete with. The day went very fast. Loads of beer drinking and camaraderie, checking out the other competitors as well as talking to them about their facial hair styles, styling techniques, and watching each category entrant take the stage and step out into the spotlight. The next thing I knew, I was on stage and being judged on my sideburns (aka Chops and sometimes known as a “partial beard”).

Photo by: Mary Lou Sandler
LABMC_WinnerPhoto_JPassion_2011 cropped

With the legend that is Jack Passion. We both took home 1st Place that day.

I had no idea, that out of the 35 guys in my category, I’d actually place, let alone win. I was shocked. My facial hair had always grown fast and I had played with different styles since college, so I never thought my beard was anything spectacular, or unique. To me, it was just a part of me that had always been there. Don’t get me wrong, it felt awesome to win. But I was laughing at the same time…again, because this is a facial hair contest.

When I got home that night, I put the trophy on my shelf and looked at it with pride. But more than that, I was excited by the new friends I had made at the competition,  some of whom I now consider family.

A couple months later when I learned of another competition coming up, I immediately jumped at the chance to go. It wasn’t because I thought I had the best sideburns, or even the sportsman’s ego of wanting another trophy. What I was really going for was the camaraderie of what the bearding environment brings. THAT is what I crave, what I long for,  and what I get from going to competitions. It’s almost as if the contest event is the excuse for the rest of what goes on during competition weekend.

What goes on during comp weekend? By now I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”. Well, what happens during comp weekend stays in comp weekend (except for the photos being posted on Facebook throughout the 3 days by drunk beardsmen of course). But the main parts of it are guys and gals traveling from all over, from all walks of life and backgrounds, to get together to share life, love, stories, and sincere camaraderie all over beer and beards. It’s like meeting and hanging out with my Facebook page for the weekend. Bar crawls, strip club crawls, Texas style BBQs, brewery tours just to name a few other activities that may go on during  these events.

Over the years, though, I’ve realized it isn’t just at facial hair competitions that men share this camaraderie of hairy brotherhood. For instance, when I’m walking around in public and pass another man with facial hair on the street, we both nod at each other though we’ve never met, and we never exchange a word, but we both know exactly what the nod is for. We are both acknowledging that unspoken brotherhood between the bearded, so to speak. And I couldn’t tell you how many beers have been bought for me by guys, with and without facial hair, at sports bars and pubs across the country as their way of showing appreciation for my facial hair.

Photo by: Mary Lou Sandler
LABMC_WinnerPhoto_2012 croppedWomen either love it or hate it. There doesn’t seem to be an in between feeling for them. The ones that like it will just come up and say that it looks cool, complete with smiles and flirty hair tossing. Some follow it up with wanting to know what hair products I use. Others are more bold. I’m asked on a regular basis by women if I think my facial hair would feel good on their thighs. When I say ‘regular basis,’ it’s about 2-3 times a month this conversation happens in public with a woman I don’t know. The women that hate it kind of curl their noses up an go “Eww,” usually following it with a statement like, “That reminds me too much of my dad.” To which I reply, “Well, your dad sounds awesome!”

I can also tell that most people want to touch my beard. Guys are usually hesitant and won’t actually ask to touch it, but stare at it with ‘dreamy eyes’ like they are getting lost in it.  The ladies are a bit more direct but always respectful and ask. Yes ladies, you may touch my beard! But please follow the correct beard petting etiquette and use the back of your hand. They play shy at first, but as soon as they touch it, I’m being pet as if I’m a new fur coat with “ooohs” and “ahhs,” and “omg it’s so soft!”

So all that, lovely lasses and dapper gents, is why I continue to travel the country, enter these contests and display my facial hair in an over-the-top-hairsprayed-so-hard-an-80s-rocker-would-be-envious presentation for all the world to judge. To put it simply, beers and buds! Mostly buds.

That is why I am a beardsman.

Photo by: Glen Combs Nashville, TN
Nashville_WinnerPhoto_2013 cropped

Nate “Chops” Johnson currently represents the Los Angeles Facial Hair Society.

They are hosting their very first competition this October at the Federal Bar in North Hollywood, CA. Go HERE to learn more.

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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.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

llana lloyd August 27, 2013 at 5:50 pm

YOU ARE ONE BEAUTIFUL, GLAMOUROUS GENT! KEEP ON STYLIN WITH ORIGINALITY! CHEERS, LLANA LLOYD

llana lloyd August 27, 2013 at 5:45 pm

NATE, YOU ARE ECCENTRIC AND ELECTRIC AND SO GRACIOUS TO ALLOW PEOPLE TO PET YOUR BEARD AS THOUGH IT IS LIKE THE SENSATION OF A FUR-COAT. YOU HAVE CLASS AND PIZAZZZ, A TRUE ORIGINAL! A HIGH SALUTE TO YOU AND YOUR EXCELLENT STYLE OF PURE UNIQUENESS! CHEERS TO YOU, LLANA LLOYD

Jon Kotinek August 27, 2013 at 5:21 pm

Great write up! The camaraderie is amazing. Easily the best part of bearding.

Guy Wiener August 27, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Excellent article. Informative and eloquently written. Cheers to “Chops” Johnson!!

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