It's Sunday morning in Tofino, Canada, and my clothes still reek of gunpowder and champagne. I tried to avoid it--the fireworks and Mums that seemed to explode out of nowhere at the beach at Chesterman's Bay yesterday--but to no avail; the locals were too proud to hold back, and they had a fine reason to celebrate — champagne and fireworks included. Their own hometown hero, Peter Devries, had just pulled off the unthinkable and won the inaugural 6-star O'Neill Cold Water Classic Canada in his backyard, besting Aussie Jay Thompson in the process. Cook 'em off and pop 'em open.
Eighteen hours prior, the mood wasn't quite so jovial in the Great North. Peter Devries, 26, had fought his way through eight heats in the comp, surfing as an event wildcard from the opening rounds all the way to the final. For Devries to make it into the quarters was a feat in and among itself, but could he really win this thing? It all seemed to be a bit too fairy tale, almost too good to be true. So the crowd at Chesterman's Bay perched themselves at the water's edge, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, almost arm in arm, and held their breath when Devries threw on his red jersey, slapped a quick bro shake with Thompson, and paddled out for the final.
A few days prior, I had asked Devries if he thought he could win the event. Ever humble, he laughed, didn't outright deny the possibility, and instead turned the focus to how talented the rest of the surfers are that are surfing in the event.
"I've seen a lot of really good guys surfing here. I just feel lucky to be surfing against all of them. Did you see Glenn Hall surf yesterday? That turn was crazy. So yeah, I'm just feeling lucky to be surfing with these guys."
Watching Pete cut his way through the competition for the past week, it was clear that he had more than just a bit of luck on his side. Surfing at a top-tier level by anyone's standards, Pete had impressed more than just the town of Tofino by making the final – he had stamped the Maple leaf seal of approval on the entire sport.
"Yeah, I've been watching him surf, he's good. Really good. I wouldn't want to have him in a heat," said South African surfer Brandon Jackson when asked about Devries at the start of the event.
From the looks of the way Devries opened up in the final, I don't think Jay Thompson wanted to draw Pete, either. Pete was untouchable, comboing Thompson and destroying any sign of open face before him. In the opening minutes, he threw down a bevy of keepers, lighting up the crowd on the beach, but it wasn't until he linked a right-hand bowl from the outside peak to the inside to the tune of a 9 that the crowd came unglued. With the seconds ticking away, it was clear that the miracle the town of Tofino had been talking about all week had just occurred. Somehow Pete had won.
When Devries made his way to the shorebreak, complete chaos erupted. Throngs of fans braved the slushy waters to wait thigh-deep in the inside to get to Pete before the others.
People were crying. Someone lit off fireworks. Champagne flowed. The announcer screamed himself hoarse repeating the phrase "Do you believe it, Tofino? Do you believe it?" It was complete and utter chaos. And Pete, who seemed reluctant to be the center of attention, finally reveled in the pandemonium, soaked himself in the champagne.
"Thank you so much to the crowd out here. This is crazy. Thanks to all of the people in town. To hear you guys cheer from the beach when I was surfing a wave...it felt incredible," said Devries when he finally found his way to the podium.
"We love you, Pete...Tofino loves you," someone from the crowd yelled.
"We quit our f--king jobs for you, Pete!"
There's one final leg of the O'Neill Cold Water Classic and it's the big one: Santa Cruz. Stay tuned to Surfermag.com as we follow the coldest series on the planet.