For Phil Olsen, the question isn’t why grow a beard. It’s why shave one off.
“I can’t think of any advantages to shaving,” he says. “The natural result is that I have a beard.”
The “Godfather” of facial hair enthusiasts and the founder of the National Beard and Mustache Championships — to be held this year in New Orleans (Sept. 6-7), complete with a parade down Bourbon Street — has never competed in the competition he established, though he does don a Garibaldi: a full, round beard and one of 12 subcategories in the beard contest (moustaches have six). Others include the Fu Manchu, the Musketeer, the Verdi and “freestyle.” The rules: no artificial hair.
The sport of bearding, says Olsen, is making a beard look its best. “It’s setting an example for others and demonstrating for the world that facial hair is a good thing,” he says. “Just like the Olympics’ motto is ‘higher, faster, farther,’ symbolizing how competition improves the overall state of the human race, this competition can improve the quality of facial hair nationwide.”
Olsen stumbled upon the World Beard and Moustache Championships in 1999, in Germany, where he was struck by the underrepresentation of the United States. He then undertook to make the U.S. a world power in the sport of bearding. The National Beard and Moustache Championships came 10 years later, in 2009. This year’s competition will be headquartered at the Sheraton downtown, though judging will take place at the House of Blues.
Local judges will be asked to vote for the contestant whose facial hair “best enhances his overall appearance, style and personality.” Personality, though, may be based on looks alone. There is no interview or explaining of facial hair; rather, contestants walk on stage and are judged.
Olsen encourages competitors to have fun, but he’s quick to point out that the event is not a joke. “It’s serious. Sometimes that’s a problem, because people don’t think it’s for real. It’s for real,” he says. The organizer’s favorite historical beard? Abraham Lincoln.
“He was the great emancipator,” Olsen says, deadpan. “He emancipated men from daily shaving.”
Interested participants and spectators can sign up and buy tickets at the organization’s website. Spectators are also invited to join the Bourbon Street parade, which leaves from the Sheraton Hotel at 11 a.m. Sept. 7.
2013 National Beard and Moustache Championships
Judging from 12 p.m.-5 p.m.
House of Blues, 225 Decatur St.