Bearding club joins whiskered enthusiasts

Kayla Miller
Associated Press
The Old Dog Whisker Club meets during its first meeting of the year at the Old Dog Tavern in Kalamazoo. The members grow their beards and mustaches for national competitions.

Kalamazoo — “Smooching” his wife is more difficult with the long beard and fluffy mustache, but for Spanky Doom the world of competitive bearding makes the fuzz worth it.

Doom, 37, is one of a growing number of people in Kalamazoo who meet Sundays for beers and some grub at the Old Dog Tavern in downtown Kalamazoo. In addition to the communal love for Kalamazoo beer, the men in the group also share another thing in common – award-winning facial hair.

The Old Dog Whisker Club is a group of men who grow their beards and mustaches for national competitions, reported.

Club founder, Andy Miller, 56, started the group in 2017 after watching the documentary “Whisker Wars” and was enlightened to the world of competitive bearding.

But the message of his group goes deeper than beauty pageant-type competitions and perfectly styled facial hair, Miller said.

As a member of the North American Competitive Beard and Mustache Alliance, the group joins others across the country to raise money for nonprofits. Whisker Club chose the Grey Muzzle Organization, which aids elderly dogs, he said.

“No old dog should die alone or afraid,” Miller said, quoting the organization’s motto.

The group’s other purpose is to de-stigmatize facial hair, he said.

“People think we’re all bikers and bad asses,” Miller said. “But big whiskers go hand-in-hand with big hearts.”

Miller himself works as a business consultant, he said. His self-consciousness of his own beard is a motivator to help other men feel comfortable expressing themselves in their workplaces, he said.

The group also includes a special education teacher at WoodsEdge Learning Center, a mechanic for the Michigan Department of Transportation, a body piercer and a former bank teller.

In this Feb. 17, 2019 photo, James Roth poses for a portrait during the first Old Dog Whisker Club meeting of the year at Old Dog Tavern in Kalamazoo, Mich. The Old Dog Whisker Club is a group of men who grow their beards and mustaches for national competitions,(Emil Lippe/Kalamazoo Gazette via AP)

Having a long beard affects daily life, James Roth, 48, said.

Sitting in the tavern showing off his beard, which extends at least a foot off of his chin, Roth said daily activities like eating and sleeping can be difficult because of the beard.

“Soup is the worst,” Roth said.

But, growing a long beard for competition is one of the best ways to learn patience, he said. As a barber who specializes in facial hair, Roth said he helps his clients fight the urge to chop the beard off during awkward stages of growth, like early on when it itches or curls.

“Bearding is a sport,” Roth said.

Another life skill the beard has taught him was that it’s OK to be different or on the “fringes of society,” he said.

“I’m going to say this, I am part of the LGBT community,” Roth said. “You probably wouldn’t look at me and guess that I am gay.

“What I love about the beard community is that it’s open and accepting to everyone,” he said. “The club as a whole promotes community; it promotes beard growth, acceptance, fundraising, camaraderie, brotherhood and sisterhood.”

Inclusiveness is a point of pride for the group, Miller said. Unlike how people might stereotype the men with large beards, Miller said the group is LGBT friendly and keeps a focus on social justice. People can associate whiskers with negative stereotypes, but the group is not prejudicial, he said.

“We support the underdog,” Miller said.

The group plans to host their first competition this summer, he said. The “Parade of Whiskers” will hopefully be a part of Kalamazoo’s Do-Dah Parade in June, he said.

The group sat together under a stuffed caribou in Old Dog Tavern munching on their food and sipping beers while they discussed which trophy best represents the city. Competition trophies are themed and are meant to show off an individual city’s culture, he said. The hand-made mounted kazoos, a trophy option for the group’s competition, are spread out in front of the group. At a nearby table, the belt-shaped trophies from “Whisker Mania” the group won at a prior competition are on display.

Doom, a body piercer who lives in Portage, stroked the red curls cascading from his chin. The long beard contrasts with his bald head that’s covered in colorful tattoos.

“She’s about two and half years at this point,” Doom said of his beard.

Doom first started shaving on his 15th birthday, he said. Now in his 30s and married, he is proud of the facial hair he’s capable of growing, he said.

Though “smooching is a little more difficult,” Doom said.