Growing a beard that contends for the winning length in the “Old Growth” category of the Strength and Style competition takes years of preparation, literally. The current favourite to take home the prize is 77-year old Paul Rousseau, who placed second in 2014 and 2019, but has won all other competitions in between.
Rousseau is also a bit of an enigmatic champion–never pre-registering for the event and appearing out of the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous (YSR) night each year to have his beard measured. In fact, YSR doesn’t even have his contact information, so tracking Rousseau down was a celebration of simpler Yukon times of communication. He’s notable at various coffee shops and pubs in downtown Whitehorse, so we got in touch via a message left for him, in old Yukon fashion, at the Gold Pan Saloon. Rousseau notes that both losses were due to quirks that affected his measurement. In 2014, he had his beard in a braid, which shortened the length and in 2019 the rules were adjusted.
“Last year 2019, they changed the rules and went with width,” he said with a chuckle. “Everybody told me I got ripped off because old growth is supposed to be length.”
Rousseau admits his facial hair growth was a mustache at 19-years old in 1959, inspired by Hollywood heartthrob Clark Gable. He grew a tiny mustache to be just like the movie star. He grew his first beard in 1971 while working on Baffin Island, but was forced to cut it off by his future mother-in-law, or she wouldn’t let him marry her daughter. His current beard began almost 40 years later in Haines Junction, in 2012. And Rousseau has some tips for aspiring lengthy beard growers, sharing that you can’t just let it go.
“You don’t want it to go past the belt,” he said. “It gets too brittle and gets caught in your zipper. My beard now is no longer than I was in 2015.”
The event is organized and championed by current YSR president “Top Shelf” Tyson Hickman, who first got involved with the festival when his wife joined the YSR Can Can Line and he took up the emcee role for them. He was asked to fill in as emcee of the Strength and Style, and now is organizing.
“I jumped in to MC it 3 years ago at the request of a board member and totally fell in love with the quirky craziness of the event,” he said. ”I’ve been the board champ and emcee since.”
As one of the oldest events YSR puts on, that is popular every year, Hickman noted that it’s just a really fun event that encompsses the northern experience in the winter.
“I think it captures the “cabin fever” aspect of living in the North in a fun way,” Hickman explained. “The things that people never talk about when winter hits–not shaving (whether that be legs, face, armpits, etc.) We’re also a crazy artistic community and the Tattoo night gives people the opportunity to show off their canvas and talk a bit about it.
“My favorite part of the event is trying to deal with my own beard envy as I watch all of the magnificently grown facial hair parade across the stage.”
Hickman also noted they’re bringing back the strength aspect to the competition this year, with planking and wall sits as it hasn’t had that component since arm-wrestling was dropped several years ago. Strength and Style is split over February 18 and 19, both the Town & Mountain (T&M) hotel from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Competitors can register for $10 per category ahead of time at yukonrendezvous.com, or in person. The T&M will be charging an entry fee at the door.
And as too presumptive beard favourite Rousseau and his intention for that evening? There might be an opening for first prize contention in 2021.
“I’ll go next month and, win or lose, I’ll go to my barber, who hasn’t seen me in many years and I will cut the beard,” Rousseau admitted. “I will have a mustache. (The beard) is starting to bother me and it’s to have a tie with the beard.”
Strength and Style Events
February 18 – Top ink and Plank Competition
- Best upper body ink
- Best Arm ink
- Best Leg ink
- Best Tattoo Story
- Plank competition
February 19 – Hair and Wall Sit
- Hairiest Chest
- Best Beard (Old Growth)
- Best Beard (New Growth)
- Best mustache (Old Growth)
- Best Mustache (New growth)
- Hairiest Armpit
- Hairiest Leg
- Wall sit competition