Big beards win the day at Petaluma Whiskerino

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It was love that led once clean-shaven TV news director Randy Forsman to wind up a winner at the Petaluma Whiskerino, taking home a trophy for best freestyle whiskers in the 61st annual contest Saturday.

A woman he would make his wife told him she liked men with beards on their first date 4½ years ago, and it turned out to be a slippery slope, the way the Sacramento man, tells it.

He renounced shaving right away, and before long, he and his bride, Amanda, were watching reruns of “Whisker Wars,” a reality show about the world of competitive facial hair. Soon, Forsman, 39, had found his way onto the contest circuit himself.

This year, during his third trip to Petaluma Whiskerino, he took his first stab at freestyling, with branching, circular swirls and loops hairsprayed within an inch of their lives and won, even if the field was only two deep.

“It worked!” Forsman said, an impish smile suggested somewhere behind layers of stiff, red-brown whiskers in the shadow of his black cowboy hat.

Like Forsman, at least half of those vying for trophies at the Phoenix Theater on Saturday were repeat contestants at the annual celebration of whiskers. Most also compete elsewhere and are members of beard and mustache clubs in their respective hometowns.

They’re in it because they’re fans of facial hair in all its forms, yes, but also because they appreciate the camaraderie that comes with it.

“It’s hard to meet people in your 30s. It’s hard to make guy friends,” said Nathan Jarrell, of Santa Rosa. “It’s a good way to meet people.”

In Petaluma, they compete in categories like Business Beards, Moustache, Sideburns, Goatee, Beard, Freestyle and Whiskerina, for the Ladies, as well as special awards for pageantry and Best in Show.

The latter went this year to Whiskerino veteran Justin Vorhauer of Sacramento, a middle school teacher and mountain of a man whose off-the-shoulder faux leopard-skin garment, cow’s tooth bracelet and chicken-bone hair accessories offset beard grooming worthy of his stage name, Oog Bonegrinder.

He carried a club a friend had found at a beaver dam in Arkansas. “He thought it was his until he saw me with it,” Vorhauer told emcee Fred Abercrombie.

Forsman said it took him about 90 minutes to complete his look this year, with the help of his wife. He said he needed “all four hands.”

His job at KCRA News is off-camera, depriving viewers an opportunity to appreciate the work he puts into his thick, gingery brown beard.

But he’s criss-crossed the country with his wife, showing it off and visiting with friends from beard and mustache clubs in different cities.

“It’s a very small community, and all the ones who travel, we all know each other,” he said.

Abercrombie, who organizes the event each year with his wife, Melissa, said attendance was lower than usual this year because of conflicts, including federal jury service, that had made it difficult to get the word out. But he said the theater already was booked for next year’s event, Oct. 3, 2020, and registration is already open.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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