Last weekend's World Beard and Moustache Championships in Anchorage brought whiskered warriors from all over the world, including a few competitors from the Kenai Peninsula.
"It was an absolute hoot, and I use the word 'hoot' with capital letters," said David Caswell of Sterling, who took third place in the "verdi" category of the full beard portion of the competition, which means he had a short beard, round at the bottom, not longer than 10 centimeters, and with a moustache.
There were 26 other contestants in this category, which initially had Caswell a little concerned, but he said Friday night festivities before Saturday's main event put him at ease.
"There was a kick-off judging party, and I placed first, so that made competing in the Worlds the next day a little easier," he said.
Ironically, unlike some contestants that grew their beards specifically for the championships, and caudaled their chin hair for months to years before the main event, Caswell said his beard just came naturally.
"I never gave thought to the idea that I had a world class beard. I've just had beards off and on my whole life, and had this particular beard for three to four years," he said.
As to how he got the idea to compete, Caswell said he heard about the event from a coworker with the Department of Veteran Affairs, David Traver, of Anchorage, who took first place in the freestyle beard competition and was crowned overall champion.
"Dave said, 'You've got a pretty nice beard, you should consider competing,'" he said.
Caswell said he was glad he got the advice and did attend the competition, too, because it gave him a chance to meet people from around the globe.
"There were more than 300 competitors from all over the world, including 13 countries, five Canadian provinces, 28 U.S. states and 65 Alaskans," he said.
Rocky Laster of Kasilof, who has sported a more than foot-long beard for nearly a year now, said he was also glad he went up for the championships.
"Being from Kasilof I don't get a lot of grief for having a big beard, but I've lived other places, like Georgia, where people say, 'The civil war is over you know,' so it was cool to be somewhere where everybody celebrated beards," he said.
Laster went up to the championships with what he thought would be a clever idea, rather than competing in one of the full beard categories, he decided to shave his moustache at the last minute to -- he hoped -- sweep the "Alaskan whaler" category, which only allows for hair on the cheeks, chin and lower lip.
"I thought no one would want to mess up their big beautiful beard, but there were 20 people in the whaler category and it looked like 19 of them had the same idea. There were a lot of people with glowing, white upper lips," he said.
Still, after looking around the other competitors dressed as traditional seafarers, leprechauns and Amish look-a-likes, Laster thought he had a chance to place, but it was not to be.
"They called first, second and third and I wasn't one of them," he said.
While Laster may have been beat, he was at least beaten by another Kenai Peninsula-grown beard as Jerem Feltman of Nikiski took first place.
"He had the full-on Captain Ahab going. He had a spy glass, a pipe, peacoat, the whole outfit," Laster said.
As to how Feltman felt about winning his category -- after months of eating a special diet, taking vitamins and giving his beard hundreds of strokes with a brush -- he said he was elated with his victory.
"It was an honor, but all the competitors looked great. It could have gone to a dozen different guys," he said.
Feltman said the win also had significant meaning for him because it was a way to pay tribute to a fellow bearded buddy in the South Central Alaska Beard and Moustache Club: Ray Smith.
"Ray always sported an Alaskan whaler, but no longer can due to health issues, so winning in the whaler category was special for me," he said.
Feltman said now that the championships are over there's not as much pressure to keep such a long, thick, beard, but his facial hair isn't going anywhere.
"The Alaskan whaler is going to grow on," he said.
Laster said not winning also hasn't diminished his hopes for a future victory, the next time the championships take place.
"In 2011 they're in Norway and I'm already thinking about going. Two years is a lot of time for growth," he said.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at email@example.com.
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