Jason Young has a pretty impressive beard — full and luxurious, its brown and gray strands extending 14 inches.
But he may pale next to many competitors this weekend at the 2019 World Beard and Moustache Championship in Antwerp, Belgium. And that's fine with the friendly, 48-year-old Davenporter.
“I have no expectations. This was an excuse to come to Europe — something when I'm old and fragile, people ask me, I can say I competed in the World Beard Championship,” Young said Friday by phone. “It's just basically an excuse for a bunch of guys with cool beards to all get-together, and hang out. It's just a feeling of community and family almost.”
A Davenport West alum who works in pet-foods packaging for Nestle Purina, Young is taking part in his fourth competition celebrating facial hair, following two in Madison, Wis., in 2014-15, and one in Milwaukee in 2015. The officially-sanctioned international contests take place every other year and started in 1990.
The last one, in 2017, the Austin (Texas) Facial Hair Club hosted the largest WBMC to date, welcoming guests from 33 countries, 738 competitors and 27 categories, with more than 3,000 in the audience. That was the first WBMC to allow creative/fantasy and realistic categories for women and men who would rather create their facial hair with a variety of crafting items.
Young started growing a beard in his 20s after his father and uncles all did, and his Dad kept his long. “One winter, I had some time off work and I let everything just grow out,” he said, noting it's been its current length for 13 years.
“I just enjoy it; it's a lot of fun,” Young said. “Everybody is OK with it.” His longtime girlfriend, Gigi, “loves it,” he said, noting they got to have their first European vacation together.
He was inspired get into hair-raising competitions after going to Madison for a concert and noticed his cab driver with a long beard, who asked him if he ever competed. About six months later, Young returned for one, the Midwest Mustache and Beard Wearer's Championship, hosted by the Madison Beard Wearer's Union, Local 608, held at Capital Brewery.
“That's a no-brainer — why would you not go to a beard competition in a brewery in Madison, Wis.?” he recalled. “In the Quad-Cities, I have a pretty decent beard. But I rolled into it, and there were a lot more people who had a lot of stuff going on...That first year, I had an absolute blast.”
“Everybody thinks I have this big beard, but it's like going to the Olympics,” Young explained. “You might be really good in the Quad-Cities, but when you get out there, everybody's that good.”
The reigning world champion, Michael Wollin of Sun Prairie, Wis., has a beard down to his knees. But beard-wearers are not judged by length, Young said — it's how it looks and fits your face.
The only annoying thing about maintaining his grandiose piece of chin music is that Young has to cage it for work inside a mesh beard net, so it doesn't get caught on anything, he said. “It looks silly.”
While there isn't a Q-C beard club, Young has thought about forming one but said it would be tough to manage, since he works second shift. He also said the competitions are neat since many uses proceeds to support charitable causes. There are no cash prizes, other than a plaque and “bragging rights,” Young said.
Like many things having to do with the sport of international bearding, the history of the sport is shrouded in controversy, according to worldbeardchampionships.com. Modern competitive bearding began with a 1990 event organized and hosted by the First Hofener Beard Club in its hometown Hofen/Enz, Germany.
You can live stream the many categories of this year's event Saturday on the website, starting at 5 a.m. Central time. Young's full-beard category will start at 11:30 a.m. Central. You can see photos of 2017 winners at http://bit.ly/2VssvHv.