Collin Hooper saw Steve Strawn at Home Depot and made his approach.
Hooper does that a lot - spots another bearded man at a store or restaurant and hustles over with a handshake and a business card.
The 29-year-old from West Richland started Atomic City Beard Club in 2013 with a friend, and he’s an evangelist for the group and the philosophy it embraces.
He calls the philosophy The Spirit of the Beard. But more on that later.
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At Home Depot, he and Strawn got to talking. Hooper brought up the club, which at the time was just getting off the ground.
Before long, “I was like, ‘I’m in!’ ” said Strawn, now one of the club’s leaders.
At Atomic City Beard Club gatherings, there’s definitely beard talk — everything from upkeep to tools for making eating easier.
Atomic City Beard Club’s ranks have grown to more than 260, with more people joining all the time.
Members gather for barbecues and the like, and they raise money for charity. Some members showed off their mettle by jumping into the frigid Columbia River in January 2015 for Polar Plunge Tri-Cities. They walked away with the award for best team costume, capitalizing on their beards by dressing as a crew of Vikings.
While the club celebrates facial hair, it’s not exclusive to the bearded, mustached and goateed. Women and children are welcome - the club is family friendly.
Clean-shaven guys can join too. Hooper said he’s heard from plenty of men who’d like to grow a beard, but whose workplaces or significant others aren’t on board.
So long as they have “internal beards, “ the club is for them, Hooper said.
Still, many club members do sport facial hair — and the lengths, shapes and styles are as varied as the guys themselves.
Brad Pitkin, 33, of Richland, who started the club with Hooper, has a full natural beard.
It makes you look distinctive. You don’t see a lot of people with beards, especially people who style them.
Tim Larreau of Richland
“Ever since I started growing facial hair, I’ve always kind of had some phase of (it), “ he said, noting his dad has a beard.
“I’ve never seen (my father) without facial hair ever. It must have kind of rubbed off on me, “ Pitkin said.
Tim Larreau, 39, of Richland, has a mustache and a long goatee. “The last time I was clean shaven, I was in the Army. So it’s been two decades since I last shaved regularly, “ he told the Herald. “It makes you look distinctive. You don’t see a lot of people with beards, especially people who style them.”
Bearded club members said they do sometimes get looks and comments while out in the community — especially when together as a group.
People might whisper or steal glances. Sometimes they ask questions, or even ask to touch the beards.
Sometimes, they’ll simply toss out a “Nice beard!” or a high-five.
Most of the club’s members are local, but the group also attracts people from beyond the Tri-Cities.
At club gatherings, there’s definitely beard talk — everything from upkeep to tools for making eating easier.
But, really, “the club is as much about Dudeism (think the movie “The Big Lebowski”) and fellowship as it is about facial hair, “ said Paul Wick, 31, of Kennewick, another leader.
Wick has a full beard now, and he’s had some type of facial hair for much of his life.
“I like everything about it — how it makes me feel, how it makes me look. When I think of myself, this is it, “ he said. “I’ve found that growing a beard is the best way for me to celebrate being myself.”
I say, everybody’s got a beast that’s hidden within themselves. They just have to let it grow.
Collin Hooper of West Richland
Which brings us to The Spirit of the Beard.
Hooper said it’s about being true to yourself — about “being comfortable in your own skin, finding your style and not worrying about how other people might judge your appearance.”
An epic beard, mustache or goatee can be an outward sign.
But, at its heart, “it’s having a beard inside you, “ said Jenessa Hooper, Collin’s wife.
Take her, for example. “Even though I can’t grow (a beard), I still have one” internally, she said.
Collin hopes the club helps breaks down stereotypes about bearded men, who sometimes are judged as lazy or unprofessional, he said.
And he wants to see the membership rolls keep growing.
He started growing his beard 21/2 years ago, after his son was born.
He and Jenessa had to spend a week in the hospital with the little boy, and Collin didn’t do much shaving.
Then, it was no-shave November, and the beard kept growing.
Jenessa loved it. To her, “it’s what he was born to look like, “ she said. “I love seeing the man he was born to be.”
Hooper loved it too. It felt right, felt true. Still does.
“I say, everybody’s got a beast that’s hidden within themselves, “ he said. “They just have to let it grow.”
Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @SaraTCHerald