A little northeast of Austin in the quiet town of Manor, kids, dogs and chickens run around the yard of a large country house as men with impressive beards build Fun Fun Fun Fest booths for the Austin Facial Hair Club.
The Austin Facial Hair Club is a social group that competes in facial hair competitions all across the nation. The group welcomes all men and women with an enthusiasm for beards and mustaches to their monthly Sunday meetings at the cafe Rio Rita.
This weekend, the group will set up stations throughout Fun Fun Fun Fest to sell merchandise, give out prizes and take photos with peep boards to spread their name. Dave Quinlan has been a member for about six months and said club members enjoy interacting with the community at events such as Fun Fun Fun Fest.
“We’re going to have a lot of stuff to do,” Quinlan said. “It’ll be a lot of fun. If you ever want to come talk to us about anything, just come say ‘Hi,’ hang out, and we’ll be there.”
A group of four men who dreamed of visiting Alaska for the 2009 World Beard and Moustache Championship founded the Austin Facial Hair Club in 2007. Bryan Nelson — who has not cut his beard in nine years — is the only founding member left, although the group has grown to about 25 active participants.
“We like Austin a lot, and we like to hang out,” Nelson said. “So we started the club so we could represent Austin and Texas at these various competitions around the globe.”
Nelson said two seasons on the show “Whisker Wars” in 2011 helped increase the club’s popularity. The show followed the members around as they traveled and competed.
“[The competitions] are pretty goofy,” Nelson said. “You just show up, and it’s like a male pageant or dog show. Usually it’s a bunch of quirky alpha male guys who show up and try to outdo each other with their facial hair.”
Not all of the competition categories are for men. The women of the Austin Facial Hair Club compete in a category called Whiskerina. They either design the hair on their heads to look like beards or use craft materials to make creative pieces. Nelson’s wife, UT alumna Andrea Nelson, has enjoyed competing since the club first began.
“There are a lot more women competing now,” Andrea Nelson said. “They’re getting very creative, so I have to think of something really awesome because the pressure is a little high if you’re Bryan Nelson’s wife.”
Nelson said he does not know the length of his beard, and the other men and judges do not measure either. The men said their beards require low maintenance, and they treat them like their normal hair.
“You just want to maintain it and make sure it looks healthy,” Quinlan said. “I give it a few trims now and then just to make sure there are no split ends.”
Every February, the Austin Facial Hair Club hosts its own competition at the Mohawk called Come and Shave It. The members said the event is one of the more recognized in the United States. Dylan Powell, who has been a member for three years, said he enjoys meeting people from all over the country.
“I like to think of [the competitions] as family reunions with long-lost relatives,” Powell said. “We all share this common thing, so you can instantly start up a conversation. By the end of the night, we’re the best of friends, telling each other stories you wouldn’t even tell your brother.”