Minnesota Beard-Off to feature 100 hairy men (and some women)

Beard-Off contestants
Mike "MJ" Johnson, left, and Chris Sorensen are two of the nearly 100 competitors in the 2013 Beard-Off being held at First Avenue in Minneapolis, Feb. 9, 2013. Johnson is the reigning Minnesota Beardsman, which awards the overall winner from the four facial hair categories - full beard, partial beard, mustache and freestyle.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Mutton Chops. Fu Manchu. The Van Dyke. The Musketeer.

If these names mean anything to you, or even if they don't, get yourself to First Avenue in Minneapolis Saturday night for the 4th Annual Minnesota Beard-Off.

The contest is just for fun, mostly. Some take the competition seriously and hope to walk away with this year's championship. A win would raise their profiles in the international competitive facial hair community.

About 100 men — and some women — will strut their stuff Saturday, vying for the coveted title of 2013 Beardsman.

The Beard-Off was launched three years ago in Minneapolis by Art Allen, 28, who started it for fun but watched it quickly grow.

There are four categories: full beard, partial beard, moustache and freestyle. Contestants can win their own category and also compete to become overall Minnesota Beard-Off champion.

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Four judges will evaluate each beard for length, fullness and quality. Beards are also judged for subjective qualities, Allen said, like kissability and whether a contestant's beard matches their personality.

"I did not expect it to grow into something that people groom their beards for all year long," Allen said. "It's become sort of a marquee event among a certain segment of the population."

This year, the bearded Allen expects about 1,000 people to root for their favorite beardsman. Fake beards are also welcome.

"Beards made of actual human hair. There was a beard made of bacon — shellacked bacon," Allen said. "There was a beard made of candy last year. There has been a beard made of wood shavings."

Mike "MJ" Johnson of Columbia Heights is feeling pretty good about his chances again this year. Last year, he won best partial beard and best in show overall. The 37-year old wine specialist wears a style called the Imperial Partial Beard.

"By rules, your moustache has to integrate into your sideburns," Johnson said. His salt-and-pepper sideburns are extremely generous; thick chops cover most of his cheeks and connect to his full moustache.

"You shouldn't really be to tell where the moustache stops and the sideburns begin so they just kind of integrate into one, he said.

"It can take up to 20 minutes. Sometimes I take longer to get ready than my wife."

It's clear Johnson is serious about his beard. And he's serious about winning

He founded the Minneapolis Beard and Moustache Club a few years ago. The group now has more than 200 members. They mostly meet for fun and camaraderie, but it is also a local chapter of Beard Team USA, which represents the US at international beard and moustache championships every two years.

Johnson himself took third place for his category at nationals last year and hopes to bring home the gold this year.

He has a well-practiced facial hair-care routine. After showering, he settles in front of the mirror and uses a pick to detangle his beard. He rubs shea butter, coconut, lanolin and other oils in to moisturize it. Then he styles his beard and moustache with his fingers to shape them into place.

But lately, in preparation for the contest, he has been taking it easy to avoid losing any hair.

"I don't really style it quite as heavy for two or three weeks before because every time you style it you sometimes could yank out a hair. And that is a 'lost soldier,'" Johnson said. "So I kind of save it up for the contest just to have a little bit of extra size."

He's also been working out.

"Well, I do moustache and sideburn pushups where I attach the beard to the pull-up bar and actually raise myself up using that. No, I don't do that," he jokes. "If I could I would, though."

Over in Hopkins, Minn., Chris Sorensen, 28, stands at his bathroom mirror combing moustache wax into his 'stache.

"If you think of the Three Musketeers, it was kind of back in the dark ages of swashbuckling," Sorensen said. "They all had kind of the handlebar moustache with the pointed beard."

Chris Sorensen
Chris Sorensen is one of the nearly 100 competitors in the 2013 Beard-Off being held at First Avenue in Minneapolis, Feb. 9, 2013.
MPR photo/Jeff Thompson

For Sorensen, that means a small, groomed chin beard and long moustache.

Once the wax is combed through, Sorensen carefully curls each side of his moustache into perfect circles. The sculpted rings hover like bicycle wheels on the sides of his face.

"It can take up to 20 minutes," he said. Sometimes I take longer to get ready than my wife."

Sorensen , a natural foods cooperative manager, has been styling his moustache like this for about a year and a half. He was inspired by his grandfather, who wore a handlebar moustache in the early 1900s.

He keeps his hair in shape for the spotlight by drinking lots of water, taking vitamins and eating fresh organic produce.

But he won't reveal what he plans to wear on stage.

"It's got to be a surprise. I want to just go out there and show off my moustache, he said. "Maybe go out there with a little glass of whisky and my pipe and see how that goes."

Johnson says the competitors at a beard contest are usually friendly but everyone does want to win. The stakes are high and new winners emerge every year.

"There can only be one champion so some hearts get broken sometimes."

He plans to unveil a whole new secret look at the contest — one that took him about a year to work out.