Leogang, Austria (heinnews) – Going to the 12th biennial World Beard and Moustache Championships, it wasn’t quite clear what could be expected.
There were thousands of pictures on the internet of past world championships. Many of them left you shaking your head in amazement. Sure the pictures presented a glimpse into this wild extravagant world of facial hair. But these creations really needed be seen – and experienced – first hand.
The journey from Regensburg started before the sun really came out and let one know it was to be a beautiful day. Shortly after crossing the German-Austrian border, the drive through Tyrol provided a glorious view of the majestic Alps under a clear blue sky.
After passing pastures of bell-wearing, grazing cows, the city limits of Leogang were in sight. After entering the town of 3,100 people, it was time to find the Leogang Hauptschule school building, where the world of beards and moustaches converged to crown their champions.
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Researching for the world championships, it quickly became clear how many different ways one can wear their beard or moustache – and how many different ways they could be styled.
The 18 categories are broken down into three different classifications – Moustache, Partial Beard and Full Beard. There are six different prizes awarded for moustaches – Natural, English, Dali, Imperial, Hungarian and Freestyle. The categories for Partial Beard are Goatee Natural, Chinese, Musketeer, Whiskers Imperial, Whiskers Freestyle and Sideburns, and Goatee Freestyle. The five winners for Full Beard are in Verdi, Garibaldi, Natural with Style Moustache, Natural and Freestyle. And the other category is Fashion Beard.
And many of the categories have strict regulations regarding hair length, use of styling aids and shaving – among other criteria.
Most people looking at pictures on the internet will notice right away the winners of the Freestyle categories since they showcase the most creativity. And one could imagine that the Full Beard Freestyle winner is hailed like a rockstar. But there are plenty to enjoy and bewilder in the other categories as well.
There were also some storylines coming into the spectacle in Austria.
The Germans had dominated the 2013 Worlds in their own backyard near Stuttgart with 11 titles to six from the United States with the other crown going to Hungary.
Germans Wolfgang Schneider and Karl-Heinz Hille have dominated the Moustache Natural and Partial Beard Imperial categories, respectively, for years, and Eugen Hipp has been a leader in Moustache Imperial. The Germans and Americans would likely battle for the Full Beard Freestyle title and multiple world champion Keith “Gandhi Jones” Haubrich would be switching categories from Moustache Freestyle to Dali.
But all of these people were just names on the computer screen, images from past contests. What would they be like in real life?
How would this whole World Beard and Moustache Championships go down?
The small town of Leogang – a former mining town which now thrives on outdoor activity tourism – was about to find out.
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Looking for the event site, you only needed to keep your eyes peeled for someone with a big beard. And that was an effective guide to the school building.
The whole group of some 350 contestants from 20 countries was gathered outside, and strolling up to the mass of people, the first impression bordered on bewilderment.
It was a dizzying mix of the most amazing facial hair you’ve ever seen combined with fancy, loud and exquisite costumes. Your head couldn’t stand still for fear you’d miss an even more impressive beard or moustache.
There was the aforementioned Hille with his Imperial Partial Beard. Wow. What a beard.
And that’s Aarne Bielefeldt, the reigning Full Beard Freestyle world champion. Man, he’s definitely put together a leading candidate beard for the podium.
Okay, granted it might not be polite, but it’s pretty hard not to stare at these guys. Then again, it’s hard to believe that many of these people don’t love the attention.
One thing is certain right away – even though this whole event is a little strange, there are a lot of good vibes coming from the participants. They enjoy showing off their latest creations. They enjoy seeing friends from years and competitions past. And they are basking in the sun with the Alps towering over the show in the background.
Waiting for the schedule of events to start up, it was time to start up a conversation. The easiest thing to ask one of these contestants was: “So, how long did it take you to pull off that beard/moustache?”
That led to a conversation with MJ Johnson, who was an American who finished second at the 2013 Worlds in Imperial Partial Beard – losing out to the German “star” Hille.
Johnson was donning a puffed out and at the ends upwards beard as well as red sunglasses and a blue onesie suit. The Minneapolis resident actually kind of fell victim to the strict stipulations. Because his beard rose up too high, he was moved out of Imperial and into the Freestyle category.
Johnson founded a beard club in 2011 – the 900-member strong Minneapolis Beard and Moustache Club – with the goal of more acceptance of facial hair in the workplace.
“I’ve always thought it is a really big deal,” said Johnson, who was taking part in his second world championship.
“Whatever somebody does, if you’re clean-shaven, that’s great. But if you have a beard, that’s great too. You’re probably just as good one way or the other. You should be able to wear a beard if you keep it well.”
Johnson said he wears his beard out in competitive style once every seven to 10 days – so that his hands “stay in practice” in forming the beard. It’s not really a problem for him at work – where he sells beer and wine.
As it turns out, Johnson is actually also a big sports fan and his beard has helped him make in-roads into the Minneapolis sports clubs.
Two different seasons, Johnson has helped the players on the Minnesota Wild ice hockey team work on their playoff beards – helping the club promote them.
In 2012, Johnson teamed up with Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic of the Minnesota Timberwolves basketball team to judge a beard contest among Wolves fans. Johnson also presented the two NBA stars with their honorary membership into the Minneapolis Beard and Moustache Club.
Johnson also has picked up a nickname from some of the more rowdy Wolves fans – as he explained.
“The Wolves have a pretty rowdy section of about 50 fans who make big signs, big faces and come up with things to yell and chant. I was walking down with my wife to our seats and all of a sudden they got really quiet. And then all of a sudden I heard chants of ‘Hu-man were-wolf, Hu-man were-wolf’. That was pretty cool to hear all those people do that. So, that kind of stuck.”
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The program was set and seemed to have some leeway time-wise. But things were already getting behind schedule when the first event finally got under way. A local band played music during a short march of the participants through town to a nearby field. Once there, the city fathers and various beard associations leaders made speeches.
While the speakers were talking, the contestants had a chance to quietly chat with one another. Talking like friends who haven’t seen each other in a while – taking pictures with one another.
After everyone had had their say, it was time to return to the school building and tent for the event everyone was waiting for. First off, the final preparations needed to be taken. The judges took their positions and the awards were lined up.
After all the anticipation and build-up, the 12th World Beard and Moustache Championships were about to finally begin. Still, it wasn’t clear what it would be like. But here we go.
First up was Moustache Natural. This was Wolfgang Schneider’s category to lose. The participants were called up to the stage and lined up, many of them fidgeting at their moustaches making sure they looked as good as possible.
Then individually, the competitors walked up to each of the seven jury members – a number of them hair stylists themselves – and presented their facial hair with varying degrees of enthusiasm and style.
The contestants then waited for the judges to add up their votes before being called up one by one to see their scores.
One of the two moderators would interview one of the participants – usually the one who would likely win the title – which would be officially announced later in the evening. Schneider was the interview partner in the first category and it was clear from the scores – three perfect 10s – that the German maestro had defended his crown.
Imperial Moustache was up next and German Eugen Hipp was the defending champion and multiple podium finisher.
But a surprise was brewing. Jackie Lynn Ellison from the Austin Facial Hair Club came with truly a classy stache.
And it was clear right away this would be between Ellison and Hipp.
Ellison was given five perfect 10 scores and he was visibly moved and honored to have received the recognition – and moderator interview.
Another reigning world champion had good chances to defend his title in Moustache English as the American Patrick Fette from Kentucky really presented a sharp-looking moustache.
Three categories in, the whole process was clear. And while it was still very interesting, it was beginning to get a bit long.
Dali Moustaches was up next and the interesting angle would be if multiple podium finisher Max Pankow could return to the top step for the first time since 2007. Keith “Gandhi Jones” Haubrich was also bringing his flamboyant style to the category. But the most impressive Dali came from Britain’s Johnny King.
Pankow and Austrian Max Pölzl had to face-off in a playoff because of a tie score – with Pankow taking second behind King and ahead of Pölzl.
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It’s hard to imagine what was going through the heads of the judges, who had to look at moustache after moustache. It became a bit too much and it was time for a break – with apologises to the Hungarian Moustache wearers (with Zsolt Jaromi winning the crown). Some fresh Alpine air definitely was needed. The competition was not even a third of the way over and the wooden benches made one long for a seat cushion.
The break was good for the perspective, not to mention that things were about to get a bit more intense as Moustache Freestyle was coming up.
Without knowing much about the competition, it seemed almost a given that Daniel Lawlor from Los Angeles would retain his title. The American took part of his moustache and formed diamonds on either side of his mouth with the other part of his moustache forming circles around the diamonds.
Günter Krause came up with an impressive display as well – with each side sprawling out in three points.
But the German watched as Lawlor picked up four perfect 10 scores – and the moderator interview.
The first true break in the action was still one category away – Fashion Beard with just three contestants so that went fast – and Michael Keller of Germany grabbed the win by just 0.50 points over Michael Hofer.
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The break provided a chance to interview one of the contenders in the Full Beard Freestyle category. The 1997 world champion and 2001 runner-up Armin Knapp came up with really an indescribable creation. Most of the German’s very long full beard was brought up on the sides in curls and clipped at his ears. Various strands of the rest of the beard are colored and curled in elegant fashion.
“I used my fantasy to form this creation,” said Knapp.
The professional hairstylist was competing in his third world championships and he said the development of the beards have come a long way.
“The beards are becoming more and more differentiated than before, more delicate and much more creative. It used to be much more simple. You didn’t have these detailed creations. I think it will develop even more in the future.”
The competition in Leogang picked back up with Partial Beard Goatee Natural. And you could see that the American contestants went more with bigger and longer while the Germans were more shorter, rounded and more styled.
It was hard not to notice Mike Danner as the Austrian had a thin long beard measuring 1.2 meters.
But the winner was Wolfgang Servay from Germany ahead of Patrick Dawson and Bernhard Greller.
Next up was Chinese with just five contestants. The winner in a tight battle was Patrick Langley of Austin – just like Imperial Moustache winner Ellison – ahead of American reigning champion Sean Raiger and Lutz Giese of Germany was third.
The Americans grabbed another title – their fifth thus far – in Partial Beard Musketeer as Johnny Beard held off Switzerland’s Jürg Biland and James McMahon of the United States.
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When it comes to the World Beard and Moustache Championships, the Full Beard Freestyle winner is like the rockstar of the competition while the Full Beard Natural champion is widely considered to have the biggest, most impressive beard of the event.
And the other given at World Championships is that Karl-Heinz Hille wins the world title in Partial Beard Imperial.
The German captured the Imperial title in 1999 and then finished fourth in 2001. That was the last time Hille was beaten at a world championship as the Berlin native won the crown in 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013. And Hille looked as strong as ever in Leogang.
Hille picked up three 10s as the third beard adjudged. But then French man Gilles Pollinien was awarded three 10s as well as three 9.50s and that was enough for the upset.
That led American MJ Johnson – who took second place to Hille in Imperial in 2013 – to say: “They (the Germans) invented all the categories, so it’s been kind of a changing of the guard a little bit. That’s the first time Hille has lost for a long time. France picked up a pretty major victory.”
Germany were kept from another title and have won won just three world champion titles thus far.
And the facial hair superpowers were kept on three in the Goatee Freestyle category as Austrian Norbert Topf gave the local fans reason to celebrate while Germans Wolfgang Führs and Marian Vidakovic finished second and third, respectively.
Germany finally picked up another title in Partial Beards Freestyle with Dieter Besuch retained his crown – finishing ahead of Austrian Franz Mitterhauser and France’s Herve Diebolt.
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Leogang hosted the Beard Olympics in 2005 and the 2010 European Beard Championships. The Austrians, however, had not had much success internationally.
Topf took second in Goatee Freestyle in 2013 and Fritz Sendlhofer claimed Full Beard Garibaldi gold in 2011. But otherwise the cupboards haven’t been getting any fuller in recent years.
Topf’s success in Leogang made the home fans hopeful of more victories in the Full Beard section of the competition.
And Anton Madreiter didn’t make the Austrians wait long as he claimed the title in the Verdi category. The victory was even more special since Madreiter is a Leogang native.
He was joined on the podium by compatriot Gerhard Stöckl with Switzerland’s Karl Ross taking third place – leaving the Germans empty-handed again.
The Verdi category had so many contestants that they had to go through two rounds of qualifications and then a final third round to decide on Madreiter. By now the original time schedule had no relevance whatsoever and it was hard to stay focused with the air getting quite sticky in the small school gymnasium.
It’s hard to imagine what the contestants of the later competitions were feeling, especially those who had spent upwards of seven to eight hours preparing their beards. More than a few of the competitors had already enjoyed one of the delicious beers offered – and some even one beer more than they should have. And yet there were still four categories to go.
Thoughts of heading back to the accommodations for a nap crossed one’s mind. But this was no longer than a day at a basketball World Championship with four games after another. Instead, the choice was a walk for some fresh air.
With all apologises to the contestants, the length of the day led to missing all three rounds of judging for the Full Beard Garibaldi – where Fritz Sendlhofer gave Austria their second straight world title and third of the day. Second was Austrian Martin Millauer while Germany’s Franz Pill took third.
While out catching some Alpine air, there was a chance to interview Jared “Mac” MacDonald, who placed sixth in Goatee Natural. Mac was one of 12 members of the Austin Facial Hair Club in Leogang – two of them having already won titles in Jackie Lynn Ellison and Patrick Langley.
It was Mac’s second world championships and he was very pleased with the organization and judging in Leogang.
“The judging is by people who actually like and understand beards. The last time it was done by Warsteiner or Paulaner girls, which is fine. They were fun to look at but they thought beards were gross and the judging was not really good,” Mac explained.
“The people in these competitions don’t come overseas to be judged by people who think beards are gross. It’s still fun regardless, but you do expect a certain level of industry understanding. These judgers were excellent.”
Mac added that because of the proximity to Germany, the judges seemed to be looking for more “local styles”.
“These competitions have mostly been over here, so we’re still dominated by the judging styles of the German shorter, rounder and more styled instead of longer and bigger, which is what we (Americans) tend to grow. And that’s one of the reasons we decided to have alternating competitions in America and Europe. So you can not only encompass more people but you can get different styles in there as well.”
Mac is part of the Austin club that will host the 2017 World Beard and Moustache Championships from September 1-3, 2017. And when asked what he expects to happen in two years, he just lets out a big laugh.
“It’s going to be so big, it’s hard to wrap my mind around it. The numbers here are tempered by the distance from America. Our competitions in America are easily this big if not bigger. It’s just grown so big. It’s probably double this.”
MJ Johnson – the competitor from Minneapolis i.e. “Hu-man were-wolf” – expects a spectacle unlike anything seen in the industry.
“It couldn’t be in a better place. That 2017 Worlds is going to be best beard contest there’s ever been to date on planet Earth,” Johnson had said earlier in the day.
“The Austin Facial Hair Club is the number one club in America. Everything that’s cool and traditional about the WBMA (World Beard and Moustache Association) they love that and respect that. But they are also creative and very modern and are ready to take some of the things to another level and put their stamp on it all while keeping true to the WBMA roots. It’s a really good combination of modern and rustic.”
The final question to Mac kind of made him think for a minute. Of all the beards and moustaches in Leogang, which was his favorite.
“Jeff Langum’s is pretty amazing. His full beard is almost as long as the other Full Beard naturals, but it’s easily two or three times wider. It’s fantastic. I would love to have something like that. It’s so different than any other Full Beard Natural that would tend to win, but it’s still visually stunning.”
Fantastic and stunning are two very good words for the Full Beard Natural of the Philadelphia native Langum, who came to Leogang as the reigning champion.
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It’s been mentioned before in this piece that it seems like the Full Beard Freestyle winner would be considered the rockstar of the bearded community. Most of the first pictures you see from world championships are of the creations people come up with for the Freestyle category.
Yet, when you look at the size of the field for Full Beard Natural it became clear that the winner of this category really needs to be considered the ultimate champion.
There were 56 competitors going through three rounds of qualifying with 21 advancing to the final round and a second time of being called on stage, going up to the judges one-by-one, and then getting their results one-by-one.
One of those who did not make it to the final round was Norway’s Einar Eilertsen, who was competing in his first world championship. He volunteered to answer some questions while sitting on the beer benches waiting to be called up.
“I had a full beard three years ago but I cut it off, and I’ve regretted it ever since. So I had to let it grow out again. I just love it. It keeps me warm in the winter and we do have cold winters in Norway,” Eilertsen said.
“My parents don’t like it and my friends always say I should shave. But my girlfriend likes it and I like it.”
He added: “It’s going to get bigger. I just look forward to letting it grow because it’s shit to shave.”
Eilertsen was also asked for his thoughts about some of the creations in the Freestyle category.
“It’s amazing. Some of these guys’ beards are amazing artworks. They spend so many hours preparing them. I think we should just bow down to them because it’s really cool.”
Eilertsen finished tied for 10th in the third round of qualifying – with six 8.0s and one 7.5.
In the final round of voting, as impressive as Langum’s beard was, he only finished third. Second place went to Austrian Daniel Erber. But the winner was clear as Madison Rowley had received a perfect 50.0 points from six perfect 10s and one 9.5. It was the best score of the day as Topf had received six 10s and one 9.0 score in Goatee Freestyle.
The impressive thing about Rowley’s beard was the sheer volume as it covered four-fifths of the width of the American, who was not a large man by any stretch of the imagination.
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As you can tell by the length of this account, the competition was getting amazingly long. And it started to wear you down – which was that much easier if you actually came to this event fighting off a sudden cold that almost kept you from making the trip.
Full Beard Natural was draining and the time had already sped past the two-hour break planned between the end of the judging and the prize ceremony. The winners should already be receiving their awards and it should have been just about time to head home for a shower and then off to bed.
But no, still two categories and then the prize ceremony. Full Beard Natural with Styled Moustache would have to take a pass. Dinner was more important and a bit of warm water since there was no tea available.
Having never been to a World Beard and Moustache Championships, it wasn’t clear what could be expected. But this whole event has slowly become a burden. The energy is gone. The butt is achy. And bed is calling.
But it’s about the event and the respect of the competitors.
A second Leogang native, Hans Gassner, won the Full Beard Natural with Styled Moustache – an impressive fourth world title for Austria, pulling even with Germany while the United States had clinched the overall crown with six world titles thanks to Rowley’s win in Full Beard Natural.
The Americans picked up two more podium finishes in Full Beard Natural with Styled Moustache as Ben Whitney was second and Josh Black third.
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It was time. Finally. Full Beard Freestyle. The creme de la creme of creativity. The crowning of the rockstar. And it certainly looked like an intriguing field.
Of course, Knapp had introduced his masterpiece earlier in the interview and will be challenged by his brother Gerhard Knapp.
The third of the veteran German Freestyle crew was Hans-Peter Weis – also a veteran of podium finishes.
The reigning world champion Bielefeldt figured to have good chances of taking a podium finish again with his impressive creation, as did compatriot Jeffrey Benglian.
The Americans were coming after the Germans with two other fine displays by Justin Kellermeier …
… and Brandon Biggins.
Judging in the Freestyle started with Benglian and Bielefeldt both drawing one 10 as the first two contestants. Biggins drew seven 8.0s with bib No. 3 while Armin Knapp picked up two 10s and a 9.5 score with No. 5. Kellermeier followed with one 10 score as No. 6.
Most of the field apparently didn’t impress the judges as they only awarded two single scores above 8.0 among the next 10 competitors, which apparently drew the ire of some of the participants.
Weis at No. 19 picked up one 10 score but nothing else higher than 8.5 while No. 21 Gerhard Knapp was awarded four scores higher than 8.0 including one 10. The only other score higher than 8.0 the rest of the way went to American Garey Faulkner with a 10 and 9.5.
In the end, Armin Knapp was crowned world champion – salvaging sole possession of second place in the overall standings for Germany with five titles to six for the United States.
Second place in Freestyle went to Benglian followed by Bielefeldt.
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None of the world champions had actually been officially announced. The organizers were saving the suspense for the prize ceremony after all the categories.
Many of those on hand were getting restless, wanting to either celebrate their success with an award, celebrate their participation with old and new friends or like others, head off to write the news agency piece and then off to bed.
The organizers did a decent job getting through the award ceremony quickly until the lights went out after all the moustache and partial beard awards had been handed out.
The organizers thought it would be fun to add a bit of Austrian entertainment right in the middle of the award ceremony. And what do you think of when you hear Austria and beard? Well, the organizers introduced “Austria’s most famous beard” – Conchita Wurst, a male singer who dressed as a woman with a dark full beard and won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2014 with the song “Rise Like a Phoenix”.
And of course, he/she had to sing it. And of course it couldn’t be over quick enough.
The remaining awards were handed out with the real highlight was a bunch of guys carrying Garibaldi winner Fritz Sendlhofer onto the stage on their shoulders.
Just one more interview needed and that is with Full Beard Natural world champion Madison Rowley.
“I came here expecting nothing,” said Rowley, who won first place in the category at the U.S. nationals last year.
“I won the nationals in Portland last year and I got a free trip here. So that’s the reason I’m here.”
When asked what the victory means to him, Rowley said simply: “It means I have to keep my beard.”
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With that simple answer, the World Beard and Moustache Championships were done for this reporter. A quick trip back to the accommodations to do some writing and head to bed for some much needed rest.
The most often asked question before coming to Leogang was if this trip was to participate or as a reporter. Of course it was to report on the proceedings. Many have since asked if the next Worlds in Austin will be as a participant. Let’s say it’s highly unlikely that will happen. It will even be hard to head to Texas in early September 2017.
The 2019 Worlds will take place in Antwerpen, Belgium, which is quite a bit closer than Austin, Texas.
So, was the trip to Leogang worth it? Yes, it certainly was. This is truly an intriguing world of individuals. It was certainly good to experience it and see that these guys really are more or less normal. Sure they have some pretty intense facial hair. But much of the wildness is only for competitions such as these.
If heinnews is at another of these competitions in the future, it will most likely be as a reporter. But the beard might just be a bit longer than it is now.
All photos taken by heinnews and rights owned by heinnews