I interviewed professional surfer (and Tofino's hometown hero) Pete Devries for Six Star, the magazine for the mud-speckled, dirt-streaked Subaru owners across Canada. Pete is the first Canadian surfer to win a major international competition (and in his hometown, no less) and appear on the cover of Surf Magazine. He's also hard as hell to track down - when I finally found him, he was surfing remote, frosty waves in northern Scotland. Fitting, since frigid water is something of his specialty. Read on below...
Six Star Magazine - Pete Devries
When most people think of surfing, they picture golden California sunshine or Hawaiian palm trees swaying in a tropical breeze. But that's not the world of pro surfer Pete Devries. He learned to ride out in the stormy north Pacific waters off his hometown, Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
"I didn't get hooked until about thirteen, but the difficulty of the sport and being out in the ocean is what I really enjoyed from a young age," Pete says. The fickle conditions only deepened his love. "Surfing is one of those sports that's hard to duplicate because everything is always changing," he says. "Once you've had a great wave you want to get that feeling over and over." Regardless of the conditions, through limb-numbing hell and some seriously high water, he's been chasing that elusive wave ever since.
Anyone who's visited Tofino knows that it's beautiful, almost prehistoric in scope. Home to a steely sea shrouded in fog and wind. Walls of ancient trees line the long, flat beaches, and mountains break straight into the ocean. Sunny days are rare, warm ones almost unheard of. But, if you have the heart to plunge into the frigid, fighting surf, you can ride every day of the year. And that's exactly what young Pete did. Arriving home from the 45 minute bus ride from his school the next town over, he'd wriggle into his wetsuit and head out into the dying light to catch the last few swells.
That dedication has led him a long way. By fifteen he'd landed his first sponsorship and by twenty he went officially pro. He's earned a reputation as a rider willing to travel vast distances and endure extreme discomfort to find uncertain and untouched waves, from the pristine blue of the tropics to foamy Northern Scottish breaks and corrugated Alaskan coastline. Why put himself through all that, just for a wave?
"I think it has to do with the effort I put in to go to these remote locations," he says. "It's more about the whole process of figuring out where a good wave is, and waiting for the conditions to get good. Cold climates tend to be a lot more temperamental, so that makes them way harder to score."
Sometimes that means travelling a long way for flat water. "I've had plenty of skunkings in my life. I've spent thousands of dollars on trips and only got one day of mediocre waves to show for it." But when the odds break in your favour, it's well worth the work and uncertainty. "When it's just you and the crew and the waves are firing, that's what every surfer dreams of."
Pete has realized his fair share of dreams. Chief among them was a stunning performance on a rare blue sky day at Tofino's North Chesterman Beach in November 2009. It was the final heat of the O'Neill Cold Water Classic, a roving international tournament that, as its name suggests, generally skips sun-kissed coasts. Technically speaking, Devries hadn't even qualified. He was one of several "wild card" entries offered to local riders. At this point, the 26-year-old didn't even have a sponsor. In an unforeseen, career-defining and ecstatic moment, he went on to outscore 143 other riders, many of them international pros, and win the whole thing.
A photo taken moments after his triumphant final run shows him hoisted on the shoulders of his friends, some of whom charged into the surf fully-clothed to drape a Canadian flag across their hero's shoulders and march him victorious back to home soil. He was the first Canadian to win a major surfing tournament, and he did it here. "Something I will remember forever," Pete says. "Words can't really describe it."
The contest win landed him the cover of Surfer Magazine, another first for a Canadian. He followed that up with three back-to-back features in Innersection. The controversial brainchild of surf video kingpin Taylor Steele, Innersection is a sort of surfing reality show. Riders film a video part and submit it to public voting. The most popular videos get strung together into a full-length film, with the top voted rider taking home $100,000. Many surfers were skeptical of Innersection when it first appeared - it seemed too much like a popularity contest, or a money grab by Steele, who would profit off their labour and talent.
Pete, along with old friends and longtime collaborators Adam Chilton, a videographer, and Jeremy Koreski, a photographer, submitted a piece and made the final video cut alongside some of surfing's biggest names. He repeated that feat the next two years running.
He could have used the momentum from Innersection and the Cold Water Classic to launch a jet set life of surf competitions and travel. But he chose not to. "I have a family at home and I love where I live," he says. "The guys that compete are on the road all year and basically live out of a suitcase. That's not what I want to do."
Pete would rather focus on surfing for fun rather than points. "The older I get, the less competitive I get, so I'm just really happy to be able to do what I love for a living." Although it might be too early to tell, it looks like his young son might follow in his footsteps.
"My wife actually took him surfing yesterday!" Pete laughs. "I'm not going to put any pressure on him, but my wife and I both love to surf so it would definitely be great if he was into it."
Although he's grateful to stand in the spotlight of a podium or a magazine cover, Pete knows exactly where he wants to be. Where he's always been: home in Tofino with his wife and son or venturing to remote corners in pursuit of undiscovered waves.