Nerves running high, the excitement of the competition building, Las Vegas resident Steve Dudley, 72, waited for his moment to take the stage in front of the seven judges. It was time for competitors to set aside the complimentary beer and wine from the welcome gala and put their best bristles forward.
After preparing for the past three years and with the support of both his family and his barber, Dudley was finally ready to show off his marvelous mane.
The judges called the men from the "Garibaldi" category to the staging area.
"To say I was nervous would be an understatement," Dudley said. "James put his finishing touch on my beard. At this point, I realized there was no turning back and my heart felt like it was going to explode."
The staging hands lined the men in numerical order. Like soldiers, they waited patiently in order for the last group to finish and exit the stage. During this time, they also filmed short video interviews so the audience could get acquainted with them as they walked on stage.
"As the time drew closer, you could cut the tension with a knife," Dudley said. "Everyone attempted to act cool as if nothing could shake us, although I'm not sure how successful we were."
Finally, it was his turn to take the stage with his group. Figuring his best bet was to confidently play to the crowd, Dudley walked on stage, raising his arms and encouraging them to cheer and clap for him.
And, they did.
"What a relief that I wasn't boo'd off the stage," Dudley said.
With new support and vigor, he walked to the middle of the stage and participated in a live interview with the host, introduced himself to the judges and let them evaluate his beard. In a few short minutes, the process was over.
However, the judging itself was nothing compared to waiting for the results.
The 2017 World Beard and Moustache ChampionshipsWith over 2,500 contestants, there was no shortage of stylish facial hair at the 2017 World Beard and Moustache Championships in Austin, Texas.
Competing in the Full Beard category under the Garibaldi style, Dudley took fifth place out of 41 contestants, coming just 2.6 points behind the first place winner Franz Pill.
In the Garibaldi category, the rules call for a "broad, full and round" beard that is "not to exceed 20 cm" and has the "moustache integrated" with no styling aids, according to the Austin Facial Hair Club website. The official competition website also suggests the beard remain as natural-looking as possible.
"I was totally surprised when I was told that I finished that high although my barber James wasn't," Dudley said. "He kept telling me that I had a great beard and not to worry about anyone else and he was right!"
In addition to the Full Beard group, other categories in the competition include Moustache, Craft/Fantasy, Partial Beard, and the ever-so-whacky Freestyle Beards. Overall, there are 27 subcategories. The full list of 2017 results and pictures of the styles and winners can be accessed at the Austin Facial Hair Club website.
The competition is held over the span of four days to give proper recognition to the contestant's impressive beards and moustaches. Dudley said, in his experience, whether you are a seasoned veteran or a new competitor, everyone is made to feel welcome.
While there will be a national competition for 2018 held in Richmond, Virginia, the world competition takes place every two years. The 2019 world competition is set to take place in Antwerp, Belgium.
"I was totally surprised when I was told that I finished that high although my barber James wasn't. He kept telling me that I had a great beard and not to worry about anyone else and he was right!"
-Steve Dudley, fifth place winner in the Garibaldi category at the 2017 World Beard and Moustache Championships
Steve Dudley (left) receives final touches on his beard by his barber James Tracy (right) at the 2017 World Beard and Moustache Championships in Austin, Texas.
Garibaldi beard style / Photo via Austin Facial Hair Club
A beard and a barber's bond
Dudley and his barber James Tracy, 41, did not just link up for the 2017 competition. In fact, the two have been acquainted for the past two years when Tracy started cutting and styling Dudley's beard at his shop Jimmy's in Las Vegas.
Tracy started cutting hair when he was 13-years-old and became a licensed barber in 2009. When it comes to styling beards, he became inspired by what he calls "the great beard movement" of 2010 and 2011.
It was Tracy's suggestion that sparked Dudley's interest in beard competitions.
"To be honest, I hadn't really given much thought to competing," Dudley said. "One day I was getting my hair cut and my barber made a comment that I had the start of a really nice beard. I said thank you but didn't think much more of it."
That was until, Tracy brought up the topic again. While still reluctant in the shop, when Dudley got home, he started looking up competitions online. Consequently, he said the endless information he found had him "hooked."
Dudley is the first of Tracy's clients to compete in a beard competition. Tracy said he first saw promise in Dudley's beard when he joked that the new retiree should grow it out and play Santa for the holidays.
"Real bearded Santa's are in high demand and well-compensated," Tracy said. "From that day on, he let his stubbly beard grow into the monstrosity that it is today." Then adding, "He never did work as Santa, if you were wondering."
Despite Tracy moving to San Antonio, Texas with his family in 2017, he still remains Dudley's barber. Surprisingly, they even fly to meet each other when it is time for maintenance.
"I reluctantly tried to find another barber who knew beards but with no luck," Dudley said. "They just didn't have James' experience or knowledge."
In addition, Tracy and his wife and son attend the beard competitions with Dudley. They plan to meet up this month in April for a trim.
"During those visits, I visit with Steve and trim his beard," Tracy said. "He is a great person and a great friend. He genuinely appreciates my craft. That is why I continue to keep Steve as a client."
Advice for other beard lovers and what's next for Steve in the future
Photo via Steve Dudley
Dudley admits he had a beard on and off for several years but did not take it seriously in the past. He said it wasn't until age 69 that he really dedicated himself to his beard growth. Once he started, it took him about 10 months to grow it out.
"Everyone is different but just be patient, brush your beard at least once a day and use quality beard products," Dudley advises.
He said it took him a long time experimenting with various brands and products before finding the Zeus line. However, today, Zeus is the only line he stays loyal to, noting that the verbena lime scented beard oil is his favorite. Newly, Dudley said he is also "honored" to become a Zeus ambassador.
Competing so far, proved to be a terrific time for Dudley. He said he is looking forward to the 2018 competition in Richmond, VA.
"I see no reason to retire from competing and will probably continue with my current beard style," Dudley said. "After the nationals in Virginia, I intend on competing and hopefully finishing in the top three in the world competition in Antwerp, Belgium in 2019."
Those also interested in competing in the 2018 Great American Beard and Moustache Championship can sign up on their official website.
Check back for more updates on Dudley's 2018 journey. To read more beard-related articles check out: "Top 7 Best Beards in Hollywood: Achieve the Celebrity Look" and "Stubborn Stubble: Here's What You Need to Do to Ditch the Itch and Irritation."