When Jack Passion strolls into Joe’s Barbershop in San Francisco’s Castro District, even the most seasoned barber stops to stare.
You can almost sense the envy as they size-up the two foot beard spilling from his chin.
Ahhh - but there will be no cutting or trimming today fellas. Passion is merely here to talk beards -- not to lose one.
"I have this beard every day," Passion explains. "It’s not an exotic thing anymore so I just kind of live and… bring my beard with me wherever I go."
By most accounts, Passion and his beard have been on an amazing adventure. He’s a two-time World Beard Champion (in the natural full beard category), author of The Facial Hair Handbook, and now one of the stars of the IFC reality show, Whisker Wars.
The show following the championship beard contest circuit premiered last week and has already established Passion’s persona as the cocky, self-assured beard guy.
“That name is Jack Passion, World Beard Champion,” he said in a scene from Whisker Wars’ first episode. “It’s not Jack Passion -- awesome guy with a beard.”
In reality, being the awesome guy with the awesome beard isn’t a bad thing. The East Bay native now travels the world for competitions – and is chauffeured in a town car for all official Whisker War business. It all seems to make-up for the stares on the street – or the "Hey ZZ Top!!" comments yelled from passing car windows.
"My friends, when they walk with me they’re 'How do you endure this?'," he said leaning back in a barber chair in Joe’s. "I just don’t see people staring at me or taking pictures."
But since the show’s airing last week, Passion has gotten a taste of the love and hate that accompanies reality television. So far, he and his beard aren’t getting ruffled.
"I take the Zen approach. It’s all water, and I’m flowing," he said.
Passion’s beard is eight-years-old. He was a student at U.C. Santa Cruz when he was struck by the notion that shaving his beard every couple weeks was akin to murder. So he let it grow… and grow… and grow. It now extends two feet in a marvelous bright red hue. He said his beard requires far more labor and attention than shaving.
"If you grow a beard, it’s like a healthy, positive and non-violent way to show the world and yourself that you’re a man," he said, pointing out that the Bay Area is an especially nurturing, accepting community to grow such a thing.
Even before Passion dipped his toe into the waters of reality television, he was eeking out his piece of fame competing in international beard championships. He now has two world championships under his beard, which is paving the way for his other pursuits. He refers to the contests as "dog shows for beards." "At the end of the day, pedigree really helps,” he said with a grin. “In that way I’m certainly the poodle of the beard world."
Inside Joe’s barbershop, owner Joe Gallagher could only gaze in admiration at the massive flowing locks cascading South of Passion’s belt.
"This is a labor of love," Gallagher said. "This isn’t just a 'oh I think I’ll grow a beard' because you’ve really got to take care of this."
Passion doesn’t have a day job anymore. He travels to speaking engagements, publicity events for the show and competitions.
He insists he’s still the same guy he’s always been – as he steps into a waiting town car and zooms away.