Larry Quintana went to bed Sunday night with a 40-year mustache firmly rooted on his upper lip. By Monday morning, his longtime piece of facial hair — a feature he says defines his face — was gone. The culprit: Beard-A-Reno, a 59-year, whisker-growing competition held annually by the Santa Maria Elks.

"Last night at the Elks' Super Bowl party, people came up to me and said I should [enter]," the fresh-faced Quintana explained. "I had a full beard that I had been growing for a month-and-a-half and a mustache ... that I hadn't shaved in over 40 years. Now, they're gone."

Quintana, a first-time Beard-A-Reno entrant, was the first of several freshly shaved faces to sign up for the annual beard growing contest when registration began Monday morning. Contestants have until May 19, the night of the annual dinner and competition, to grow and style their beard.

"We really don't know the exact history of how it began," explained Tina Tonascia, chief operations officer of the Elks Rodeo office. "A lot of the Elks members that were a part of the rodeo decided to hold another event because it was just another festivity they wanted to have."

The competition spans 12 categories for various color tones (blackest, reddest, whitest beard), styles (best goatee, best mustache, best sideburns), best attempt, wildest, best western characterization, ladies' choice and best all-around facial hair. Winners will be presented with a custom belt buckle for their respective category.

For participants and onlookers, registration for Beard-A-Reno and Miss Wrangler, a crowd-judged competition for women in Wrangler jeans, mark the countdown to the annual rodeo season. By the end of registration, Tonascia expects to have between 50 and 75 individuals sign up for Beard-A-Reno and about two dozen entries for Miss Wrangler.

In her nearly three decades of involvement with the Beard-A-Reno competition, Tonascia said she's been a witness to the ever-changing trends in men's facial hair and difference in styles between younger and older competitors.

"There's been a lot of uniqueness in the competition," she said. "It's fun because you get the younger and older generation together [and] there's quite a competition to them. Some of the older guys really know how to fine-tune their beards and trim them, but the younger guys get more creative."

Denise Shrubb, the first Miss Wrangler entrant for the year, said she decided to sign up to for the competition in order to try something "fun and new" at her age.

"I'm going to be 65-years-old and I just want to have fun at my age," she said. "There are women in their 20s and 30s who sign up ... so it's fun to compete and show people that no matter what age you are, you're there to have a good time."

Her husband, Ray Shrubb, a longtime Beard-A-Reno entrant with nine wins over several categories, was on hand Monday to complete his registration. Though his once-black beard has since gone gray and white, Shrubb said his secret to success is his fast-growing, very dense beard.

"It's got to be pretty full ... and dense," he explained. "You've got to twist it up at the ends and comb it out so it's as thick as you can get it."

Entries for Beard-A-Reno and Miss Wrangler competition close at 5 p.m. Friday, April 6. Beard-A-Reno entrants must be clean-shaven at the time of entry but may keep their mustache if they're not entering the "best mustache" category. Dinner tickets and registration for the competition is $25. 

For more information about the competition or to purchase tickets, call 925-4125 or stop by the Elks Recreation office at 113 S. College Drive.

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga



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