A 26-year-old Olympia resident recently returned from the World Beard and Mustache Championships in Trondheim, Norway, where he took first place in the "full beard with styled mustache" category. He won the same title four years ago in England, when he became the youngest international facial-hair champion.
OLYMPIA — Burke Kenny said it’s not unusual to notice people staring at his chest.
“I have to say, ‘I’m up here,” ‘ he said, pointing to his face. “Just like a girl.”
Of course, they’re probably not really staring at his chest so much as they’re looking at what’s covering it: an amazingly full and curly brunet beard with auburn undertones that contrast with the straight black hair on his head.
The 26-year-old Olympia resident recently returned from the World Beard and Mustache Championships in Trondheim, Norway, where he took first place in the “full beard with styled mustache” category. He won the same title four years ago in England, when he became the youngest international facial-hair champion.
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As they were preparing for the world competition, the contestants were followed by film crews for the reality show “Whisker Wars,” which premiers at 11 p.m. Aug. 5 on IFC.
Even though he won a title, Kenny wasn’t cast as a main character on the show. But the show does follow the saga of his best friend and Beard Team USA teammate, 27-year-old Jack Passion, of the Bay Area in California.
The international competition featured about 20 categories. The Americans brought home six gold medals, and four of those were grown by men from Washington state, Kenny said. Besides Kenny, they were Bruce Roe of Bremerton, who won for Hungarian mustache; Craig “Rooty” Lundvall of the Everett area, who won for full beard natural; and Keith “Ghandi Jones” Haubrich of Seattle, who won the freestyle mustache category.
From the episodes he’s previewed, Kenny said “Whisker Wars” portrays bearding as a cutthroat competition. But for him, it’s more about traveling the world, drinking beer with friends and having a good time.
“I don’t take it extremely seriously,” said Kenny, who often dons a top hat and vintage jacket for competitions. “I like to be an honorable gentleman and present myself honorably.”
Of course, that’s his approach. What about his competitors?
“They’re out to get me, for sure,” Kenny said. “A lot of people take it really seriously. There’s a lot of drama and a lot of big egos.”
Kenny grew up in Olympia and began shaving at age 13. He experimented with facial hair in high school, although nothing extreme. He began growing a mustache at 19 and a beard about a year later, while attending The Evergreen State College.
“My dad is definitely my No. 1 inspiration,” Kenny said. “He’s had a mustache for 30 years.”
When he’s not competing for beard titles, Kenny works part time playing bass guitar for the blues/rock band Hitchkick. He also works as a cook at the Urban Onion in downtown Olympia. (He braids his beard and rolls it to keep it from getting in the way at work.)
The mustachioed Mark Kenny, 59, of Olympia describes his son’s facial hair as “pretty impressive.” He said he’s glad his son does such a great job representing the United States.
Full beards, especially long ones, get a bad rap, so Kenny said he’s trying to use his to promote understanding and acceptance for people who are gifted with fruitful facial follicles.
“I encourage men to grow quality facial hair, if they can,” Kenny said. “And wear it humbly.”