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Tress Distress

By Jessica Fromm

GROWING out exceptional facial hair can be a surprisingly risky business. Gary Hagen once burned off half an inch of mustache when trying to curl it with an old-fashioned curling iron (he learned gas stoves are not compatible with vintage hair-styling tools).

Bruce Roe, president of the Bremerton, Wash.-based Whisker Club and a longtime American facial hair competition participant, set his mustache on fire during a recent club function. "At our annual Whisker Club meeting last August, I was barbecuing," Roe recalls. "I had a big flash, and in all my years of having a mustache this has never happened, but I burned up a bunch of my mustache. I lost a couple of inches in the end."

The most traumatic injury in recent beard competition memory was sustained by Willi Chevalier of Germany. A construction worker by day, Chevalier was unable to attend the 2003 World Championships after his snow-white mustache had an unfortunate run-in with a power drill, ripping open his face and almost costing him an eye. Chevalier has recovered and competed in May.

Zippers are also not friendly to those with extra-embellished facial hair. Both Passion and Hagen avoid zippers like the plague. Passion says that he's learned through trial and error what not to do with his beard. "Riding a motorcycle with my beard flapping around was pretty stupid," he says, noting that it got so strained and knotted that he ended up losing a lot of hair.

Eating can also prove a challenge when you have a voluminous beard down to your belly button. Crumbly food gets caught in Passion's mane. "I go through a lot of napkins. Sometimes, I have to hold it back when I'm eating, or tuck it into my shirt if I'm doing things," he says. "I get it caught under my leg when getting into a car all the time, and [I got it caught in] the car window one time," he admits

Passion says he's had a lot of close calls but no major accidents yet, outside of a bad case of food poisoning that put his beard into shock. "Two years ago, I got horrible food poisoning and lost 30 pounds in like a month. I did lose a ton of beard."

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