East coast battle of the beards faces off in Philadelphia
Hordes of bearded men from across the country arrived in Philadelphia this weekend to compete in the East Coast Beard and Moustache Championship at The Blockley in University City.
The contestants and their supporters traveled in teams including the Miami-based B.O.M.B. Squad (Brotherhood of Mustaches and Beards), The Garden State Beard and Mustache Society, and The Beard Team Ohio Tri-State Hair Force.
The Austin Facial Hair Club entourage included at least 10 contestants, some of whom are also planning to attend a championship in Germany next month.
Contestants competed in 15 categories, including two reserved for bearded ladies who bid for most creative and most realistic fake beard.
One category was "hipster beard," which organizer Brian Hexter says was created uniquely for Philly. "Hipster and Philly just kind of made sense," said Hexter.
The 600 attendees and contestants who packed the bar greeted each other with a friendly "How's it growing?" Most agreed the competition should not to be taken too seriously.
"For me the winning is not the point," said Bryan Nelson, of IFC's Whisker Wars TV fame. "This is like a goofy family reunion."
Jack Passion, a rival of Nelson, saw things differently.
"Everybody in here wants to see me fail, as they've had this entire beard season," said Passion who joked that he is ethnically a Viking.
Nelson wears his beard as an emblem of honesty.
"I think guys that wake up and shave everyday — it seems like they're hiding from something. People say, 'Oh, your hiding behind your beard,' but this is how I look if I don't do anything. This is how I naturally look. They're the ones denying something," said Nelson.
He admitted that his beard is sometimes inconvenient, like when he sleeps on it wrong, or when his two young children try to yank on it.
But at the end of the night Nelson walked away with a first-place win for the most coveted category, "full beard natural."
Judge Holly Hox, a professional hair dresser, says she is attracted to bearded men. "This is like a wet T-shirt contest, except more burly," said Hox.
Jim Daly, an exterminator and amateur magician and comedian from Ardmore, Pa., said the contest is another opportunity for him to entertain.
"It's fun, but I gotta win. For me there is no second or third place," grinned Daly through his six-pronged "partial beard styled." Daly won first prize in his category.
To score extra points, contestants frequently took the stage to carry drinks to the judges and the emcee, Brandon Biggins of the Philadelphia Beard and Mustache Club.
"Alcohol's a huge factor in all of this," Biggins said. "It keeps the nerves at bay when you're on stage, and it just overall makes a fun party environment."
But Biggins said he doesn't require the liquid courage. Bearded men "are absolutely not bashful," he said. "They are rowdy, loud. They have no shame."
"These guys are like celebrities to me," said judge Rich Siegel.
Siegel, who created BeardWars, an iPhone app that pits two beards against each other and allows viewers to vote for their favorite, had never seen a live beard competition before.
"To shake hands with all of them and grab at their beards in real life is just such an awesome experience," said Siegel.
Brian Hextor, a public school teacher who organized the event for the Philadelphia Beard and Mustache Club, said he was very proud of the size of the crowd and the more than 150 contestants who entered their beards in the championship.
"It's kind of astounding that this many people would come to Philadelphia for our first ever competition."