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Phil (Pretzel) Coates

Phil Coates was a hot young surfer who ripped in all conditions. Intensely athletic and flexible (hence the nickname) he was a standout surfer in the late 70s and early 80s. He won the Victorian Title around 1982 and was four times PSC Open Champion.  The photo above by Robert Hunt featured in Tracks in Aril 1979. The tribute below appeared in the PSC Newsletter in 2001:

In retrospect I don’t think any of us really expected him to hang around forever. He kinda came from nowhere and then disappeared but he made an impression while he was here.

His real name was Phil Coates and he surfed well. Some say he got the nickname from his rubbery body-bends and the way he could contort board and body into weird kinds of synchs, or his body shape, all arms and legs, but powerfully built. Howey should he could have been a handy footballer and he did play well in the club games. He was a good paddler too. And like most really good surfers, he seemed to surf fast, able to pick up speed at will and make it easily through sections we were all struggling with. He seemed able to put the board into positions we hadn’t thought of yet; you see that sometimes when someone comes along to your break and changes the way you see it can be surfed.

He had a fluent kind of grace too, a way of linking turns together so that you didn’t so much notice one manoeuvre but the way he put the whole wave together. One turn blended into another with a kind of hunched over fluency, arms wide at times in a style that you might even call awkward if there wasn’t a knock-kneed guy up in Newcastle around that time called Mark Richards who was re-defining everyone’s ideas of what ‘style’ was.

Pretzel did well in contests too, not opting for the one-off gouge but putting long rides together consistently and rarely falling off.  There were other young guys who came into the Club around the same time who impressed with their free surfing, but Pretzel was the one who could do it in contests too, winning consistently from early on and nabbing some Club Championships along the way.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say he was a champion guy too; who seemed to get on with everybody, confident enough about his own ability that he didn’t have to promote himself or get aggro in the water.  A lot of guys who knew him better than me would have stories to tell about his friendship out of the water.

I just remember the surfing really, one of the standouts in a long history of hot surfers. I hear he’s living in Sydney, working the stock-market or something, which wouldn’t surprise me. He always seemed kinda organized and aware of what he wanted to do. I hope he’s got a favourite little spot in Sydney somewhere and he’s still getting in the water. Maybe someone’s heard how he’s going; it would be good to find out.

by Warrick Wynne.


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