The Performer: Champion surfer Peter Devries

On competition, hometown pressure, and the advantage of being a pro surfer from Canada.

Date of birth: 04/30/83
Height/weight:: 5’11”, 165 lbs.
Population of hometown of Tofino: 1,900
Competitors at Cold Water Classic: 143
Prize for winning Cold Water Classic: US$20,000

Earlier this month, B.C. native Peter Devries became the first Canadian to win a professional surf contest — O’Neill’s Cold Water Classic in his hometown of Tofino. After spending a couple of years on the Association of Surfing Professionals World Qualifying Series, Devries has decided to relinquish the competition scene in order to travel the world shooting videos and magazine spreads as a free surfer. He spoke with reporter Ian Walker.

How do you define success?
Dedication and just loving what you do. I’ve always found that if you work hard, the results will follow. I’m always pushing myself, and loving what you do fuels the desire to keep plugging away at it.

When did you realize you could make a career of surfing?
When I actually started to make money. I had done well in all the local contests since I was in my teens, and I won my first cheque at 17. It was then that it sort of clicked that I could be good and make a living out of it by filming videos and doing photo shoots.

What do people say when you tell them you’re a professional surfer from Canada?
The first thing people usually ask when I tell them what I do is, “What are you ranked?” People who don’t surf don’t get how you make money as a free surfer. But once I explain it — that it’s just like professional snowboarders who don’t compete, but rather use their time to make films and shoot pictures for magazines — it becomes a little clearer.

What’s the daily routine of a pro surfer like?
I wake up fairly early, have some coffee and a bite to eat. I take my dog, Nai’a, for a walk on the beach, then check the waves to see where they’re good and head out surfing. I’m usually out there for two to four hours, depending how good the conditions are. Then I come in and have lunch, walk my dog again with my girlfriend, Lisa, and then go back out for another surf if the conditions are good. Usually my day revolves around surfing, relaxing, walking the dog and hanging out.

What are you thinking out there waiting for a wave?
Not a lot. It’s a total release from everything.

What distinguishes elite surfers from the rest?
I would say being able to deal with a variety of conditions and being consistent in performing in anything. That, and you only have so much talent you’re born with. If you don’t work hard, you’ll never see that potential reached. That means going out in conditions where it’s not necessarily good surf, but you still feel like you want to go out there and want to improve.

What would you say is your crowning achievement?
It would have to be winning O’Neill’s Cold Water Classic. It was the first pro surf contest to be held in Canada, and it was here [inTofino], so it would have to rank up there. I also had a profile in Surfer magazine, a major U.S. publication. It was the first surfer magazine created, so that was a huge moment in my career. Just to get that mainstream exposure down in the States was amazing.

Do you feel a lot of pressure from your hometown fans?
Everybody in Tofino is really supportive of surfing and of me. It’s not like the NHL, where you have to be so good, and there are so many people competing for only a few spots. People didn’t really know what it takes to be a pro surfer in Canada, the way they do in Australia or the States. Here, it’s so new, and there’s not that many of us doing it, so I didn’t really face that much. People just really encouraged me to take it as far as I could.

Canada isn’t exactly renowned for its surfing. Is that a help or a hindrance in your success?
I think it’s a definite advantage. I may not have the worldwide press that guys from the U.S. or Australia get, but in terms of the surf industry, they’re always looking for someone new or different, so it’s really nice to have a niche, especially in the current economic times. We’ve got a good little surf industry up here that’s growing rapidly.

Why haven’t you moved to one of the world’s great surf meccas?
I’ve never found another surf destination where I’d want to live full-time. There is something about the weather and the climate here, the changes in the wind and sea. My dad was one of the original surfers around here. There’s such a rich history of surfing in Tofino, and I’m just glad to be a part of it.

Why did you decide to give up competing for free surfing?
Back when I was competing, it was me by myself. When you’re on your own and you’re travelling around the world, it’s a lonely place. You fly halfway around the world, and when you get there, you might not be feeling your best, and if you don’t produce in that 20-minute heat, it’s pretty depressing. You travel two days to get there, thenyou might as well pack your bags after that.

Are you a competitive person?
Growing up, I was always competitive in sports, but I’d have to say the older I get and the more time I spend away from the competition scene, the less competitive I am. Really, I’m more competitive with myself than with others. When I watch myself on video, I don’t necessarily love what I see every time. Those things I don’t like I try and work on. But I enjoy surfing for surfing. Riding a wave for how it feels. I don’t really feel you need to win something to prove you’re a good surfer.

What’s the greatest thing you’ve learned?
Patience. That’s definitely something that surfing teaches you. The ocean is always changing, and every wave you catch is different. You need to be patient with yourself in order to improve.

Do you ever feel complacent about what you do?
I get a little burned out, but that happens with everything. When I feel that coming on, I always try to take a break and get away from it for a bit. That’s all it takes to make me realize how lucky I am to make a living off what I’m doing.