Pete Devries grew up on a beach near Tofino where he learned to surf in snow storms, often in wet suits so cheap he had to wear two to stay warm.
Twenty years of braving British Columbia's icy waves paid off on the weekend when Mr. Devries, who rarely enters competitions, astonished a field of top international competitors to become the first Canadian to win a major professional surfing event.
That a relative unknown did it at home, on a beach where his dad taught him to ride a board when he was 7, left Mr. Devries and others stunned.
"I guess I'm elated. I'm still kind of in shock," Mr. Devries said Sunday, after celebrating his unexpected win of the $20,000 first prize at the O'Neill Cold Water Classic Canada by taking a walk on the beach with his girlfriend, Lisa Hasse, and his dog, Nai'a.
Held for the first time in Canada, the event is one of five cold-water tournaments hosted annually by the Association of Surfing Professionals, one of the world's leading surf organizations. The others are in Tasmania, Scotland, South Africa and California.
The competition drew more than 120 top surfers to Tofino, and few expected a local boy to storm to victory on the big Pacific breakers that pound ashore there.
"To be honest, I didn't even know who Pete was," the great Australian surfer, Jay Thompson, said after he lost to Mr. Devries in the final heat.
The field that Mr. Devries, 26, bested during the week-long competition included professional surfers with big reputations: Dusty Payne of Hawaii, Damien Fahrenfort of South Africa and Adam Melling of Australia.
Mr. Devries used to participate in international competitions in the U.S., but gave it up several years ago to concentrate on refining his technique and building a career as a "free rider," a surfer who makes a living endorsing brand names. He is featured in magazine photo shoots and videos, and is known as one of Canada's best technical surfers.
But he is not known on the world surfing circuit.
Mr. Devries said his lack of competitive experience may have worked for him, as so little was expected of him that he felt no pressure.
"I just tried to have fun," he said.
The tension was there for his fans, however, who crowded the beach to watch Mr. Devries, aware that he is a talented surfer who can pull off stunning moves.
One of his signature turns is called a layback snap, in which he rockets up the wave face, then reverses suddenly by sticking his trailing arm in the water and using it as a pivot point.
"Don't give up at this point because sometimes miracles can happen," he says in tips he posts online to help other surfers.
He may have been following his own advice during the contest, knocking off one imposing challenger after another.
Tension built as Mr. Devries, who as a boy washed dishes in the local bakery and sold boards in the local surf shop, rose through the rankings all week.
"I'll be honest. I was so nervous I could barely watch," said Noah Cohen, a long-time friend of Mr. Devries and a leading Tofino surfer, who was eliminated in the quarter finals.
"A lot of us pretty much were in tears," he said of those who cheered Mr. Devries through the week.
Allister Fernie, who owns the Storm Surf shop in Tofino, credits Mr. Devries success to talent and hard work.
Mr. Fernie recalled watching as a 13-year-old Mr. Devries tried to stay warm in the winter surf by wearing two thin wet suits. The water off Tofino is about 6 C year-round.
"I said, 'Dude, we've got to get you some better gear,'" said Mr. Fernie, who later became one of his sponsors.
Surfers are judged on their two best waves during a 30-minute session, with scores ranging from 0 to a perfect 10. When his final turn came Mr. Devries nailed it, earning scores of seven and nine.
As Mr. Devries came in, two fists raised over his head, Mr. Cohen and others ran into the cold surf to wrap him in a Canadian flag.
"It's something I'll never forget," Mr. Devries said.
Despite the big win he has no plans to rush off and join the world circuit. He and Ms. Hasse have a baby on the way and he wants to stay close to home.