No slouch went it comes to surfing, Peter Devries has been well known among surfers north of the border. If you’re from Canada and you surf, you’ve been hearing about him for years. But it wasn’t until his fairytale win at the O’Neill Cold Water Classic Canada in 2009 that he became a household name.
Then he entered Taylor Steele’s innovative new film project, Innersection, and caught the collective eye of the international surf scene, propelling him headfirst into international acclaim. In the second installment of Drift’s interview series, The Northern Collective, we caught up with Pete to talk story about the trappings of surf stardom and his take on big waves and board design. Photo: Jeremy Koreski.
So I guess the first question is how long have you been surfing for?
I guess 20 years. I started when I was seven. I didn’t really surf that much until I was 13, but I guess it’s been 20 years.
Did you do a lot of travelling when you were younger?
I think if I only surfed in cold water, I’d never get any better. I pretty much did one trip a year, from 14 to 16, and then I started to travel a bit more. I’d go down to the States once or twice a year, then I’d go somewhere warm as well, like over Christmas break, for maybe two weeks or something. I lived on the beach, so I had access to it every day. After school in the winter, I could still manage to squeak in a surf before it got dark when I got home from school. I’d say mostly just being motivated to surf and actually surfing was how I got better.
How do you feel about crowds in Tofino? It’s really blown up in the last couple of years.
Yeah, it’s definitely busier, but it’s different when it’s where you’re from. You can always get waves if you’ve grown up surfing somewhere. You’re entitled to more waves, and you’re going to get more waves regardless. It’s different when you show up at a place and it’s super packed and there’s a bunch of locals. There are different dynamics.
Do you surf at Chestermans and Cox Bay a lot of the time, or do you have a bunch of little spots that you know of?
Cox Bay and Chestermans are probably the places I surf the most, but I try and get away from them on occasion. The better waves and the reefs, the spots that we go to by boat—those are the waves that I really enjoy surfing around here. But we don’t get to surf them that much because the conditions are so specific.
Do you have a boat that you take up and down the coast?
I don’t myself, but me and Jeremy Koreski are really good friends. We go all over the place together, and he’s got a boat.
How did you hook up with him?
We started shooting when I was about 17, and then we developed a relationship over the last ten years. We really like working with each other, and it’s a really good fit.
You guys have gained a lot of international attention over the last few years, haven’t you?
It’s been a good couple of years. It’s been surprising. I think winning that contest [the O'Neill Cold Water Classic Canada] helped a lot, and then Innersection was definitely huge as well. I was really surprised with the response we got from that.
Oh, your part was so sick, though!
Yeah, it’s hard to look at your part that you’ve watched so many times, with the editing and stuff. It’s hard to judge it against other parts that you’re seeing for the first time, but I’m really happy with the response.
How much has your life changed since Innersection?
It’s changed a lot. The biggest change is having a baby. That’s a totally different thing to get used to. So much fun, so much work. But it terms of where surfing’s involved, it really hasn’t changed that much. I may have got a few more trip opportunities, but other than that, I’m pretty much doing the same thing. I’m just trying to do what I’m doing and keep trying to get better.
So who are your sponsors right now?
Hurley, Monster Energy, Storm Surf Shop—Allister Fernie has been helping me out for years, I started working there when I was 12, so I’ve known him for a long time—and Nixon. I’m also riding for ADANAC Surfer’s Union—my buddy Doogie’s company, and I just signed with Reef. Then AKA Surfboards and DSurf Accessories.
Do any of them try and pressure you to move out of Canada?
Ah, no! All of them are really supportive of what I’m doing. I think with unique places being looked at a world-wide level—you’ve got guys from Ireland doing crazy stuff—just having a niche is good right now. With the new changes on the ‘CT making it so difficult to get on, sponsors look at being from somewhere different as a bonus, rather than something that’s going to hinder your career.
So you wouldn’t want to be on the tour if you could?
Well, I can’t say that I wouldn’t want to be on the CT, but I can definitely say that I wouldn’t want to be on the WQS. I mean, maybe for a short period of time. But last year when they made the changes to the tour, and looking at how many guys qualified that are new guys…it’s virtually impossible with the new changes. The allocation of points between Primes and 6-Stars is such a big gap, and the ‘CT guys getting points from the ‘CT…unless you’re an up-and-coming junior surfer and you’re willing to put five years into it, it’s really hard. But with a family, I don’t want to travel that much. It just doesn’t seem realistic. But it would be fun to be on the ‘CT for a year. I wouldn’t argue with that.
Would you say Innersection or the Cold Water Classic was more important in your international recognition?
From a Canadian recognition standpoint, the Cold Water Classic was a bigger win, but in terms of international surfers and surf media, Innersection might be a bigger thing. Not too many people really pay attention to 6-Star contests. But definitely in Canada, the 6-Star win. You know, you meet people that have never surfed a day in their life, and they’ve heard something about it, and they’re like “oh, you’re that guy.”
After that first win, was there any pressure for the next Cold Water Classic?
Yeah, I definitely felt different going into the contest last year. I mean, I was doing interviews a week before the event. I was putting a bunch of pressure on myself. I didn’t want to be that guy who lost first round, and I almost did. I had a really close heat. But as the contest wore on, I started to feel more comfortable. But my goal was to make the final day, and I ended up making the Round of 16, which was on the final day, so it was good. I lost to the event winner, which makes you feel a little bit better than losing to someone who didn’t win the event. I had a good run. Obviously, it would’ve been great to repeat, but that’s the thing about surf contests: it’s really hard to perform consistently throughout a whole event.
How much filming did you do for Innersection?
We did a fair bit. I was filming with Adam Chilton, and we were filming for most of the fall. There were only a few really good days that year, but we filmed for three or four months before the entry. Then we filmed after the first deadline, but it was summer and the waves were pretty terrible. But we got some fun waves in Chile on a trip with Noah Cohen and Jeremy and Shannon Brown. Unfortunately it’s just not that good around here in the summer.
A lot of guys always have someone filming, every time they go out. Do you do that?
It just depends. Adam Chilton has been filming me a lot over the last year and a half, but it’s definitely not every day. This month, when Adam was away in Australia, Jeremy and I shot a few times. It depends on what everyone is doing. When Adam’s around, I’m trying to get him out there, even if it’s just a beach break.
There was one wave in your Innersection part that was big slabby right hander, and it looked really shallow and dangerous. Was that here on the island?
Yeah, that one of those waves that we got to by boat. That’s a legitimate wave, for sure. It’s basically just a barrel. You backdoor the peak, go through the slab, and kick out.
When you’re on waves with consequence like that, how much do think about the risk? Especially now with an addition to the family, has your outlook changed?
I don’t think my attitude towards surfing has changed since we had a baby. If anything, it makes me more motivated to get work done when I have the chance. When you’re surfing a wave like that, the thing that you really think about when you’re out there is the location. You’re in the middle of nowhere. If you get hurt, you’re two and half hours away from anything. So I generally try not to think about it, I just try and surf. Usually if it pops into your head, then something’s going to go wrong.
Do you ever want to do more big wave surfing?
No, I’m not really a huge fan. I’ve surfed Waimea once, not when it was giant, but still some pretty solid big drops. It was still exhilarating and scary. But I’m more of a fan of getting barreled on smaller waves. I’d rather surf Backdoor and get a good one out there than surf Mavericks or Waimea. I’d rather be barreled than surf a big wave, I think. That’s my ultimate thing in surfing, is to get good barrels.
Thanks to Malcolm Johnson at SBC Surf for his cooperation in reproducing these stories.