Pete Devries is the undisputed king of cold water surfing. Born and raised in the small surf town of Tofino, he’s spent most of his life there doing what he does best – surfing in really, really cold water. Apart from the lack of traveling and maybe a few more surfers, the pandemic hasn’t done much to change life in Tofino, giving Pete plenty of time to focus on his most recent film, Born Pacific, which examines the feelings and natural beauty of the frigid waters and surrounding landscape that he calls home.
How has the surf been there?
Pretty good, honestly. It feels more like November than September I’d say. We’ve had numerous big storms so far and I’ve already surfed one of the right points in the film that is really only a wintertime wave a couple times this month. So yeah, pretty fun start to the season.
Can you give us some background on the film? How it came together and what the inspiration for it was?
I’ve been working with Manera for just over a year now, and we were talking about doing a film so they made a storyboard and came up with an idea that they were really looking to shoot and portray. And that was more of a documentary and history about myself and my upbringing, which is a completely different view from what we did. Nate [Laverty] and I had actually done a film or two in the last couple of years that followed more or less that narrative so we both felt like we really wanted to step away from that and just do something a little different and a little out of the norm for me and what I’ve done in the past.
I really wanted to stay away from personal voiceover. I’ve done it on a few different films and I’m kind of sick of hearing myself talk. So I really wanted to stay away from that and just portray the feeling and the beauty of the area that we get to surf in every day. From there it was really just trusting Nate’s eye and creativity. It was (left) up to his style and what he kind of saw throughout our filming process – what he wanted to shoot and the feel that he wanted to portray.
What was it like growing up in Tofino? I know that it’s a bit more of a feeling piece than a documentary as you said, but there’s definitely that element in the film of exploring growing up in that environment.
Yeah, I mean, it was definitely different. Back when I was a kid my dad surfed here in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, so I got to watch him surf in front of my house and that was my first introduction to surfing – on Chesterman Beach watching him surf. So yeah, it was pretty natural that I took to the water and tried it out myself. Wetsuits back then were absolutely horrible, so surfing in the winter wasn’t really much of an option when I was younger. I would go into the local surf shop here and buy their used rentals, or my parents would buy them when I was younger, and it was basically a Farmer John that would velcro at the shoulders, and then a jacket that you would zip up the front that was literally baggy with a loose neck and loose sleeves. There was no keeping water out from that getup so summers were kind of the only option until I was a bit older like around 12 or 13 when I could fit into the smallest size adult women’s suit. From there I got into the Hotline front zips where the zipper would basically stretch from one side of your chest down your arm. They were uncomfortable, but they kept you warm.
And so now, what are you wearing to stay warm up there?
Yeah, so I generally stick to 5-4-3 suits all year but I alternate between a couple of different suits. I wear the 5-4-3 hooded Magma. And especially if I’m paddling a ton – like surfing the beach breaks here you’re just always moving and catching waves – I wear a 5-4-3 with a detachable hood for range of movement. I’ve just had so much wear and tear on my neck over the years and all that so it’s just nice to have a little more flexibility and mobility. But definitely as it gets colder I’ll use the full hooded five millimeter suit and then seven millimeter booties and three millimeter gloves – my standard in the winter.
What’s your favorite season?
Definitely fall into winter. I tend to like winter more and more as surfing becomes more popular because there’s less people in the water in the winter. Yeah, fall has been really quite busy around here but hopefully as the world opens up and people start to travel a bit more winter will become a little quieter like it used to be.
How has Tofino been during the pandemic? We talked with you at the beginning and you said it’s gotten more crowded. Has anything changed since the early lockdown days or is it still the same?
Yeah, I mean, day-to-day life hasn’t changed too much here, other than when restrictions are imposed and lifted. It’s kind of changed things for our tourism, but, for example, this summer we were fully open and tourism was at an all-time high. So, yeah, it was as busy as it ever gets and I think whether there was a pandemic or no pandemic it would always be as busy as it ever gets in the summer, so it was kind of just like normal life. I know a lot of the businesses were struggling with staffing shortages and missing all the foreign workers that come here and stay for the summers and then go hit the snow in the winters – that’s kinda the common theme for foreign workers, they go surfing in the summer and snowboarding in the winter – so that was maybe the only real change but other than that it’s been honestly one of the better places to be during this whole thing. You can still get in the water and surf every day, and we live in such a small town that you don’t feel overwhelmed by, for example, getting on a subway or doing all the public stuff here so you can just get outside and kind of live life as normal, so it’s been pretty good.
I know that you love your home and you’ve talked about that in a couple of films before. But with the Canadian borders being closed and not being able to travel, has that changed for you at all? Now that you’ve been at home for so long, are you at all wanting to get out and travel?
I’m ready to go, that’s for sure. Come October it’s been about two years since I’ve left the country. I’ve done lots of little trips within Vancouver Island and it almost feels like traveling when you go on a camping trip somewhere up the coast for a few days so that can be revitalizing and a nice little change of pace, for me anyway. But I’m really looking forward to getting on a plane soon, and I actually just found out that I’m going to be – hopefully – doing a trip within the next couple months to finish this other film that I started before the pandemic, so it’s been a long time coming.
Where are you headed?
To a secret little island, very far north. It’s for a film that Ben Weiland and Mark McInnes are working on. So we were there about two years ago. That was my last trip before all this happened, and it sounds like we’re going to be able to go back this fall. So, I’m looking forward to it.
If you haven’t yet, check out Pete’s newest film Born Pacific, available here.