Each year the changing of the seasons would always fill me excitement. The way the sun rose and fell each day as we approached the winter will always remind me that the flair season was upon us. Then immediately I recollected the number of hours of practice I had put in over the summer, and I would either be relieved or super stressed depending on how active I was in the ‘off season’.
As the summer faded, so did the chances of practicing outside, especially living in Cape Town. The number of days that could guarantee sunny weather dwindled fast and so if you didn’t practice over the summer, you were always going to be behind the 8 ball come time of the first comp of the year.
You see bartenders are creatures of purpose. According to Douglas Coughlan ‘you can only take a man so far, then it’s a question of biology, and biology is destiny’. Brian Flannigan goes on to call him ‘the Old Philosopher’.
In Philosophy, the concept of being born to do something is defined in the theory of Biology is Destiny. I don’t believe people are born to be bartenders, but every one of us is born with certain traits that will see us purposefully pursue something until we achieve it. For most bartenders in my day the need for a goal preceded the need to achieve it, and so in saying that; if there were no competitions on the horizon then there was very little need to be prepared. Those bartenders who were idle in the off season didn’t get any joy on the circuit for that year especially in the first couple of comps, so I always loved to see who had improved the most year on year, and then also to see which new faces were going to be unveiled.
Then Pieter showed up and all of a sudden I didn’t enjoy the first comp of the year anymore because the gradient of improvement he showed year on year was not a good thing for anyone else on the circuit, guaranteed.
As if fighting off the gargantuan talents of Mike and Vic weren’t enough to have sleepless nights over, no one on their quest for National honours needed the added pressure of a ridiculously talented, anatomic flair freak with a penchant for winning. He was a rookie with a rechargeable battery pack, he caught on quick and brashly went where no man went before him. He could rifle through a cache of extra skills he seemingly didn’t need, skills he could easily discard although others would absolutely kill for. It was like being in the first Lord of the Rings movie where you were always running from the all seeing-eye. You knew he was going to get you sooner rather than later, and if the anxiety didn’t kill you first then the reality eventually would.
Only difference is Piet is not Sauron. He is more like the character Gimli, honourable, wise and a stalwart warrior. Nowhere near being a dwarf he is nearly 7 ft. tall in stature, he has hands like baseball gloves and is armed with the wingspan of a Marshal Eagle. True to his nick name, he couldn’t pick a pair of matching socks out of a line-up. His whatsapps are super coded I can’t decipher where the English ends and the Afrikaans begins. With immunity he can drink Tequila like Kurt Schlechter, he needs little to no sleep, will happily trade shots with Tomek Malek in their birthday suits after a comp and all of these things are totally okay because none of them would be considered important things needed to win flair comps. The important things he excelled at, and the rest was fair game.
In 2009 Piet won the rookie section of the SA Nationals beating another rookie bartender who was just as crazy about flair, Dionysius Tsoukalas. He then joined up with Anil Sabharwal at Shaker Barschool in Cape Town and started doing the most amazingly entertaining tandem shows together. Hi meteoric rise to the top was cultured by Anil, who he was stylistically speaking very influenced by. He won a host of independent comps along the way and although none of them came with a national tagline the line-up of bartenders he toppled, especially at the Get-a-Grip flair series at Eastwoods which he won, would’ve given him National honours if it weren’t for better timing.
He represented South Africa at the biggest World Flair competition on earth, the Roadhouse Flair Championships in London. He won the spirited award for the most entertaining bartender for a routine in which flaired behind an ironing board as a bar and balanced a bottle of Finest Call on the base of an iron in the finest call stall. In some routines he used wheel spanners, while flairing to Jack Parrow in the background, his routines were not only a cultural snapshot of his immensely proud heritage coming from Bellville, they were hugely entertaining and supremely technical.
His most major trick was to compete in the state of being hung over because he believed it gave him a better grasp on his nerves. Although he never drank tequila before any of his shows, he saved them all for afterward, and since I’m not Kurt Schlechter, whenever he asked me to have a shot of Tequila with him, my response was always a series of ‘no’s’ crammed into one. We joke about it to this day, no no no no no, no no, no no!
He currently works for himself doing host of things all dedicated to improving our growing industry. He founded a tonic line, he was the originator of the kegged cocktail program called Kegtails, and most recently he has started his own syrup range which he has just been released into the market.
If this is the off season, I know Piet is already hard at work on his next project while the rest of wait for a sense of purpose. When the new season comes around no doubt he will be ready to tackle it with all the new things he has been working on in the ‘off season’, just like when we flaired competitively.
Do I see him slowing down anytime soon, I think not? If I could catch him in a downtime I would say to him ’you’ve already done everything ou pal, why don’t you just chill and relax for a while’, but predictably I know what his answer will always be, no no no no no, no no, no no!
Piet 'the Sock' Oosthuizen flairing in the SA National Flair Championships at Cubana Latin Cafe in Stellenbosch, 2014