The Aussie sun is brutal – so harsh that Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. Last year alone, more than 15,000 new cases were diagnosed, accounting for 11 per cent of all new cancer diagnoses.

Sydney not-for-profit Beard Season is trying to combat those alarming statistics by making it easier to get screened. This summer, it’s partnering with Sydney hospitality group Merivale and its CEO Justin Hemmes to host free skin checks at three of its seaside pubs: The Newport, Coogee Pavilion and The Collaroy Hotel.

Beard Season founder Jimmy Niggles has been raising awareness of the threat of melanoma for the past 10 years. He lost a close mate, Wes Bonny, to the disease, and says that even though men are more likely to get skin cancer, they’re the hardest demographic to target.

“I supposed it’s because blokes think they’re bulletproof and don’t need to go see a doctor,” he tells Broadsheet. “[We started Beard Season] because we knew we needed something all about commitment to get the ball rolling. We saw these farmers with epic beards and thought, ‘Why don’t we all grow beards? Everyone will ask us why and it can be a good conversation starter.’”

And that’s how Beard Season was born.

Today, thousands around the world grow facial hair in the winter to start conversations about melanoma and to raise awareness about early detection. But now the organisation’s work has progressed to sponsoring skin checks.

“It started with us telling people to get skin checks, but we really had no idea how many people were getting to see the doctor, so we thought we should bring the doctor to the people,” says Niggles, who has one of Sydney’s greatest beards.

Two huts will be set up at each venue, and two skin doctors or specialists will use AI-based screening technology to check for melanoma and skin cancer. The checks take between 10 and 20 minutes and will be done from 10am to 6pm on designated dates. Beard Season aims to check at least 1000 people across the three venues.

The larger aim is to eventually kickstart a national skin-check program in partnership with the government, but first the group needs to host more free screenings and collect data to present to relevant parties.

“The idea is we can table a big report for the government to say, ‘We’ve saved X number of lives or something because of this program; let’s make it a full-time thing with federal funding’,” Niggles explains.

On February 28, the organisation will host the Million Dollar Beard Ball at the Ivy ballroom to raise funds for at least 10,000 free skin checks. Niggles is also auctioning off his famous beard – only trimmed once in the 10 years he’s been growing it.

“I’ve had it a quarter of my life almost, so it’ll take a bit of getting used to,” he says with a laugh. “But yeah, I can’t wait. It’ll be a big milestone for our charity.”

Beard Season’s free skin checks will be at The Newport until January 8; The Collaroy from January 16 to 18; and Coogee Pavilion from January 31 to February 2.