Smoke and Mirrors: A Wet Shaver's Guide To Hookah (Part 1)

smoking hookah

Mark posted on Reddit’s Wicked_Edge subreddit, asking for help and input from wet shavers on writing an article about hookah. Well I nearly jumped out of my skin when I read that, because those are my favorite two hobbies that I’m very passionate about. My friends would call me mildly obsessed, you’ll probably find them saying things like “Yeah, he’s REALLY into shaving and hookah bars. It’s kind of weird.” So I had to jump at the opportunity and provide my two cents. Especially since I owe pretty much everything I’ve learned about traditional wet shaving to Mark’s Mantic59 video series on YouTube, as well as the very well written article on Art of Manliness that eventually led me to his videos. So this is me paying it forward and giving back.

I want to begin by an excellent comment on Mark’s Reddit post by user ak_doug that perfectly sums up what I was thinking and what I’ll be getting into on this article in a nutshell:

“That is a very interesting article subject, a hookah is a better way to enjoy smoking, but is viewed as old fashioned and weird. The water filtering makes it much smoother, and the coal heat is much better than burning the tobacco. It takes a bit more time, and more upfront cost, but makes for a much more pleasant experience and lower cost in the long run.”

This hits the nail straight on the head as a good summary, so let’s begin.    

My “Qualifications”

First off a brief background on who I am and why I feel I’m pretty well qualified and versed to speak on this subject. Now I don’t consider myself an expert on either subjects by any means…but I can definitely say with confidence I have sufficient experience on both subject to provide some good insights.

First off I am Pakistani, and with my ethnicity usually comes with the genetic curse/blessing of having very thick and coarse facial hair. As I’m writing this article, I am 25 years old. I started shaving around the tender age of 13. By the age of 14 I had a full, thick beard. It had haunted and burdened me for YEARS of my adolescence; I had to constantly shave so I didn’t look like the wolf man all throughout middle school and beginning of high school. I currently live and grew up in Texas, so being one of few Pakistanis in my school my racial genetics made me the only boy my age with that thick and that much facial hair.

I only recently switched to wet shaving September 2012 and since then my face has been for the better. Modern multi-blade cartridge shaving was always left my face irritated and very dry. I literally had to shave every day, 5 o’clock shadow was usually there before noon. Here’s a picture of me in 2011 when I decided to participate in No-Shave-November at my office, this was about mid-way through the month.

I had never grown my facial hair longer than a week without trimming it, so as you see it becomes Viking-like in a short period of time. Since making the switch to traditional wet shaving, the techniques I’ve learned let me take control of my frantic follicles.

Hookah smoking has also been a huge passion of mine, there are plenty of hookah bars around where I live here in Dallas, Texas. It has become especially huge in the college scene, we have about a dozen or so hookah bars on my old college campus. So I’d frequent them on the weekends, we also have several smoke shops around and decided to buy a few hookahs myself. To this day I round up a gang of my friends on the weekends and go to new bars around my town. There was a time for about 3-4 months or so that my friends and I would go literally every weekend. It became a bit of an obsession. So I’ve become very well acquainted with the culture for the past few years. So enough about me already! Let’s get started.

Hookahs – What are they, their history and cultural impact

So if you don’t know already on what a hookah is, here’s a simple diagram with a bit of summary.

Much like wet shaving and all the terminology associated; it’s good to know the individual parts and terminology. Especially since most of these parts can be interchangeable and more importantly customizable (more on that later). But a lot of the words have synonyms (e.g., the water jar you will also hear called vase) so just be aware of that.

Hookahs are basically a water pipe. It’s generally accepted and seen as a traditional smoke pipe of the Middle Eastern cultures rather than a juvenile piece of paraphernalia. I like to call it – A Gentleman’s Bong.

It vaporizes tobacco (typically flavored) by filtering it through water in the vase into a cool, clear and clean smoke that is inhaled by a hose by one or several people at the same time. It’s a huge part of typical Middle Eastern culture and history. According to Wikipedia, it was invented around mid-1500s to late 1600s by an Indian emperor and used among the wealthy and noblemen in Persia and India, so it was essentially something used by gentlemen to purify smoke and enjoy. Apparently physicians believed it had health benefits, but we know now that’s far from the truth.

Here in the US, it is having a huge resurgence. Typically you’ll see these served in Middle Eastern themed bars and a lot Mediterranean restaurants to provide customers with the “back home” atmosphere. Since it is such a big part of Middle Eastern countries and cultures, my friends from Egypt, Lebanon, Iran and etc. say that essentially hookah bars are like the Starbucks and coffee shops of the Middle East. Just a casual leisurely getaway and a good way to pass time among friends, study, conduct business meeting among colleagues, enjoy music, eat some delicious shwarma and hummus and watch a belly dancer work her seductive hips. This is all translating and adapting very well into the college youth scene. So besides the obvious youth and Middle Eastern families, I also see more and more military members at these locations – perhaps do to time served overseas in the Middle East, they have adapted parts of their cultures over to their homeland. So we’re seeing a new face and crowd of young, hip, modern consumers.

This is very similar to the traditional wet shaving emergence we’re seeing today – with large corporations such as Procter & Gamble noticing that we’re slowly getting away from their modern multi-blade cartridge razors in favor of an old traditional money saving options. Their acquisition of Art of Shaving was a smart move that helped retain their modern Gillette shaver that turned into a traditional wet shaver. I personally attribute people switching back because of a combination of reasons; one being the nostalgic feeling we men grew up seeing our father’s and grandfather’s wet shave with a brush and old razor, so we want to go back to the traditional ways of being a gentlemen and feel like a man. Also due to the global economy and US specially suffering from a long time recession for the past decade, people becoming frugal and trying to cut cost any way possible. The savings that traditional wet shaving can entail is a very attractive reason. Others like myself were just not satisfied with their shave and skin condition, the “bad taste” modern shaving left in my mouth wanting for more. “There’s GOT to be a better way,” I thought.

Also similar to how barbershops are here in the US, these were very common in the early days – an old tradition and hobby where men shared stories and where there was commodore. You could sit back, have a beer, talk about your day, get business advice, have a laugh and etc. So hookah bars and very equivalent to barbershops, both being old traditional breeding grounds for young men in different cultural locations, but also attract many variety of people from any age or gender. Both also started as a way to better your health as recommended by early doctors and physicians would practice in Barbershops. Some barbershops also serve hookah in many parts of the Middle East, so you could have the whole “man cave” experience at a one-stop shop. We’re seeing both of these businesses make a comeback because it turns two basic things that traditionally men do: smoking and shaving, and turn them back into pleasurable hobbies.

I could also be said that cigarettes are the equivalent to modern cartridge or electric shaving. It’s quick, it’s easy but the overall outcome isn’t truly satisfying; you just get your quick fix and you’re out. It’s almost like a chore at times. Most active smokers buy a pack a week (extreme cases a few packs a day), so costs can add up. With hookah it’s more meditated, it takes time and it’s much more satisfying. Just like how people find smoking cigars relaxing and a pleasurable hobby. With cigarettes you’re basically treating yourself to “fast food” version of smoking. It’s the same analogy that modern cartridge shaving is “fast food” shaving, you get your fix – and you get out, again not very satisfying. To most it’s enough and all they need, but nothing beats a nice home cooked meal. Sure costs might seem cheaper for fast food at first, but if you buy your own groceries and take the time make your own meals, you’ll be saving money and leave feeling satisfied.

Part 2 coming next week….

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  1. 357 says

    Thanks for this article Wajikay. As a cigar smoker living in SE Michigan, I’ve seen hookah bars and know of hookahs but never tried one. This has been a good read. I’ll be jumping over to read part two as soon as I can.

  2. Jim S. says

    An interesting article so far. I hope you will explore the actual use of the products in your next piece. I am a sometime pipe-smoker and would like to hear about tobacco selection, how the coals are used and so on. Tobacco pipe smokers have hundreds of choices for tobaccos and pipes. Is it the same for hookah users?

    • Wajikay says

      Oh yes part 2 goes into detail of types or hookah and tobacco (and yes TONS of variety). This was originally one long article, was a bit lengthy so Mark decided to split it to two parts to keep it easy to follow.

      So thanks for your interest so far, hopefully you’ll enjoy part “deux” later this week.

  3. says

    I’m your average gamer, ok i’m obsessed with gaming. I spend all my time in my house. I don’t like going to flashy places, loud places like movie theaters etc.. Being someone that’s been groomed; programmed by American culture “STAY INSIDE, THERE’S RAZORS IN THE APPLES AND AMERICANIZED KILLING BEES WITH M16’S ON THEIR BACKS”.

    With so much unnecessary fear and alert, green alert i like to call it. It’s nice to have a smoke every now and then in a relaxing environment.

    • Wajikay says

      Dafuq bro. Lol.

      But yes. There’s tons of variety in hookah lounges too, most popular ones are loud and noisy like a nightclub. But traditionally they are VERY laid back and chill. Not too quiet with a light ambience of middle eastern tunes but it’s very relaxing. You should try medditerian themed restaurants vs the bar/club scene.

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