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The World’s 8 Best Cold Water Surfers, with Pete Devries

Story by Theo Lewitt

Surfing in frigid temps requires a certain tenacity often absent from the average lineup. When the mercury’s above and below the surf plummet to near freezing point, the faint of heart settle for pursuits that don’t require soggy 5/4/3 wetties and straight-up survival skills. But, those dedicated to the rugged life score… both empty lineups and man points. Few surfers have veins filled with quite as much frigid saltwater as Canada’s Peter Devries. To the warm water surfer, Pete’s pre icy-plunge advice is to “just put your hood on and wear it all day, because you’ve got to get used to that thing.”

Pete describes the allure of cold-water surfing in terms of its challenges. “You just you have to put in more effort in cold water spots to score them. But, the reward is far greater than going on a trip to indo or something. The locations that we’re going to are less crowded, and for me, that’s what I like about them… because the wetsuits don’t bother me. I’m just used to them.” That doesn’t mean his legs don’t become useless tree stumps from time to time, but that’s just part of the cold water game he’s grown to love.

We dialled in with Pete, who happened to be scoring at some undisclosed frigid location in Northern Europe, to list his favorite cold-water surfers…


Brett Barley

From: Buxton, North Carolina, USA
Air temp: Gets below -1 C in winter
Water temp: Below 3 C in winter

According to Pete, the winter conditions around North Carolina are no joke. “It’s just super gnarly over there. The water temperature and the air temperature get way colder than where I live on the west coast. But they’ve just got such a great influx of temperatures. They can surf in boardshorts in the summer, and then in the winter they’re in the thickest gear possible, because it’s absolutely freezing.”

From that area, “Brett Barley is really impressive. In terms of all around surfers, he’s one of the best. He surfs in warm water a lot too, but he definitely stands out in the cold stuff.”


Sequence: Mike Nelson Sequence: Mike Nelson

Balaram Stack

From: Point Lookout, New York
Air temp: Commonly drops below -5 C in winter
Water temp: Commonly below 2 C in winter

Balaram gets Pete’s stamp of approval, too. Even though he spends a significant amount of his winter in Hawaii and various other warm locales, he grew up in the snowy surf, and knows it as well as anyone. “Those east coast guys are suited up at home, they drive in their car to the beach, and just jump right back in their car to get out of there, and definitely want to make sure their suits are dry before putting them on.”


Fergal Smith

From: Westport in County Mayo, Ireland
Air temp: Average low of 5 C
Water temp: yearly average roughly 7 C

By now, you’ve likely seen Fergal’s Growing series, which showcases both his slab-hunting prowess and his veggie nurturing green thumb. While growing produce is badass and all, there’s nothing quite like watching Fergal charge Mullaghmore. That place is scary, and Fergal don’t look scared.

“Fergal Smith freaking charges. I met him once when I was in Ireland, surfed with him briefly and hung out with him for about a day. He’s a really cool guy and really goes for it. In Ireland, pretty much every other surfer charges. Guys that can barely get to their feet on a surfboard paddle out at the heaviest slabs over there. It must be the Guinness I guess…” While liquid confidence may help most, Fergal has got plenty of mettle all his own.


Nico Manos

From: Lawrencetown Beach, Canada
Air temp: As low as the -20s C
Water temp: Roughly -1 C with ice chunks

Chances are you haven’t heard of this guy, and for good reason. Most people don’t dare surf the cold waters of Nova Scotia that this guy calls home. While there are certainly more flashy surfers out there, it only seems fair to include the best surfer from the world’s coldest surfable location, and that, right there, is Nico.

Considering that Peter grew up in Canada, and has surfed in Iceland, Scotland, Newfoundland, Alaska, Chile, New Zealand, and a bunch of other cold water standouts, it pushes some serious weight when he says that Nova Scotia is the coldest place he’s ever surfed. “I actually saw a photo from there the other day, and there was ice fully frozen solid into the lineup, and there was a sick wave breaking through it. But, with the cold, it gets pretty un-surfable there. When I was there, the water temp was 32.8F, and the air temp was -25C with the wind-chill. Those guys deal with it all winter, and they continue to surf. Nico Manos is definitely the best surfer from the area. I’ve been on a bunch of trips with him, and he’s a really good guy. All the guys from Nova Scotia are seriously hardcore.”


Ramon Navarro

From: Punta de Lobos, Chile
Air temp: As low as 6 C in winter
Water temp: Mid 10s C in winter

Big wave surfers have all nearly reached maxed testosterone levels, but when you consistently paddle into giants wearing hoods, gloves, and boots, a few more proverbial hairs are added to the chest. These kinds of hairy chests deserve mad respect.

“I haven’t really surfed with any of the Chilean guys that much, but it seems like there are a lot of chargers from down there, and Ramon definitely stands out. He catches some fricken scary waves, that’s for sure.”


Ricardo Christie

From: Mahia, New Zealand
Air temp: As low as 7 C in winter
Water temp: Low 10s C in winter

While New Zealand’s north island gets chilly, the south island is where the real cold hides. While it rains in the north, it snows in the south, and snowy land means uninviting waters.

“On the south island in New Zealand there aren’t really too many surfers that are sponsored and all that kind of stuff, but from the North Island, Ricardo stands out for sure. We did a trip down to the South Island that he was on for about a 10 days, and he was just frickin’ ripping. Just smooth, and really, really good. I really hope he does well on tour this year.”


Marti Paradisis

From: Clifton Beach, Tasmania
Air temp: Between 3 C and 11 C in winter
Water temp: averages around 12 C in the winter

Tasmania is certainly one of the more rugged spots on the map, both in terms of weather and waves. With slabs a plenty up against sheer cliff, it takes a certain type of crazy to charge in Taz. Marti does it better than most, so well that he won the Biggest Wave of the Year award at the Australian Oakley Big Wave Awards in 2013.

“You can tell the boys down there, like Marti and Mikey Brennan, just want to surf the craziest waves you’ll ever see in your life. They’re like, ‘Yeah! Shipsterns, you’d love it!’ Like it’s a walk in the park or something...”


Noah Cohen

From: Tofino, B.C.
Air temp: Average low of 2.8 C  + wind-chill
Water temp: Consistently hovers around 10 C

Growing up under the tutelage of Peter Devries will rub off on ya, and that’s exactly what’s happened with Noah. “He’s my favorite surfer from Canada for sure. He’s got everything, and I tend to like well-rounded surfers. He can get barreled, he can do airs, and he can do turns. He’s definitely the next big thing from Canada. Pretty excited to see where the younger guys go.”


And of course, our point of insight, Peter Devries

From: Tofino, B.C.
Air temp: Average low of 2.8 C + wind-chill
Water temp: Consistently hovers around 10 C

Even amongst the best cold-water surfers in the world, there aren’t a whole lot who actively avoid warmth, dreading stints in the tropics. Other than a yearly family trip to Hawaii or Mexico that allows his wife and kid to get their annual tans, when Pete goes off to find waves, “it’s always cold,” and he prefers it that way.

Replace tropical hammocks for wilderness campfires, and threat of sunburn for that of hypothermia, and Pete feels right at home. “If I’m wearing a 5/3 with a hood and no gloves, that’s totally fine. A 3/2 full-suit with booties on is like surfing in trunks.” Not to mention, the guy has one of the most well rounded approaches to riding a wave. Barrels, carves, and tweaked airs intermix with regularity, and we like that… a lot.

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