KIWI CHAMP TELLS US WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE BEARDY

Leeston 39-year-old Sam Wakelin spoke to Dogbox about the best bits of being beardy on July 12. It is the dead of winter, with some nights measuring -5 degrees celsius in inland Canterbury.

Wakelin says he isn’t sure if beards have much of a warming or cooling effect on a man’s temperature, pointing out that in Middle Eastern countries – where religion urges many men to wear beards – epic facial hair is maintained while it’s hot as balls year-round.

The Christchurch classics teacher is a true beard expert, having cultivated a beard over the last ten years so impressive it won him the title of NZ Beard Champion in the years 2014, ‘15 and ‘16. Over the last ten years he’s sacrificed job security, too – refusing to renew a job contract brewing malt; working as a firefighter, which requires breathing apparatus fit snugly on the face – but his dedication meant by 2017, Wakelin was ready to ascend. Wakelin competed in the World Beard and Moustache Championships in Austin, Texas on September 1-3 that year.

Wakelin walked away 22nd out of 30, but that was okay.

Getting to the world champs was special (though Wakelin had already achieved a godly status, of sorts, winning the 2014 NZ champs dressed as Zeus).

Today, Wakelin still sports a beard so long he describes it as “belt-buckle length; full wizard mode.” He suspects his beard right now may be one of the longest in NZ, and he can choose to compete if and when the championships return to NZ.

Hairiness appears to be in the Wakelin genes, with Sam’s brother sporting an equivalent beard (interestingly, Sam’s brother’s beard took just 3-4 years to grow waist-length, compared to the ten years it’s taken Sam).

Anyway, Dogbox asked Wakelin the essential questions.

HAVE YOU ENDURED ANY ‘HAIRY SITUATIONS’ OR ACCIDENTS?
“Nothing major, but I’ve had a couple of jobs where I had to have it properly tied up. One was brewing malt for beer. They had all these augers so I had to have it tied up in a man bun and wear a beard net around it. They were pushing me to shave but I didn’t comply.
Then teaching workshop, woodwork, obviously you’ve got to be careful around sanding machines… a lot of the time I would tie it up.

MOST INTERESTING ACCESSORIES?
You’ve got your Moroccan argan oils; I’ve got a detangler brush. During Covid high alert times, my brother’s partner made customised XL face masks that would fit around a huge beard, because the traditional mask is too small and doesn’t provide full coverage.”

ADMIRATION?
“The beard competitions are a subculture and I think really big beards aren’t mainstream in NZ. But I get a lot of respect from Sikh people and Punjabi people from north India because I also wear my hair long and in their culture senior men in society don’t cut their hair – so straightaway I get kudos from that culture.”

Wakelin says he gives a nod of mutual respect when he spots a fellow beardie, and acts as a mentor to anybody starting out who wants to talk. The main wisdom is guiding people through those difficult first 2-4 weeks when the beard is growing in “It’s itchy at first, people need to get used to growing it out, gaining momentum.”

PROS AND CONS?
Overall, the biggest Pro with having a beard, Wakelin says, is “You can get a lot of positive attention from people, like being a rock star.”

The biggest drawback? “Attempting to eat pumpkin soup,” Wakelin laughs. “Sushi I can eat easily, but pumpkin soup is the worst.”

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