If the first cut is the deepest, then surfing is at Donavon Frankenreiter’s core. But that doesn’t mean he could ever choose between waves and his second love, music. The California-born, Hawaii-based musician and professional free surfer got hooked on board riding at ten and first picked up a guitar at 16. “I was ... at a friend’s house on a surf trip,” Frankenreiter says. “He taught me like three chords and that was sort of the end of it. It was sort of like the first sensation I had when I stood up on a hard surfboard. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it but I just knew that I loved it and I didn’t want to stop."
Close to three decades, countless surf trips and five solo albums later (he released his first in 2004), the two passions are still closely intertwined in Frankenreiter’s life. Both are unpredictable mistresses, he says, and that’s what keeps him enthralled. “A surf trip is up to Mother Nature and how you feel and where you’re at and the unknowingness of, 'Is it going to be good or not?’ and that’s a similarity with music too. You go on stage and you don’t know if it’s going to be good or not, you just try your best and every show’s different so it’s exciting. I think that’s why I’m attracted to both of those things so much, because they’re forever changing for me.”
Frankenreiter’s latest adventure is a surf town tour of Australia, including coast-to-coast performances, an appearance at Byron Bay Bluesfest and a few cheeky beach breaks. He took five with RUSSH to talk art, fatherhood and where it all began.
What’s the main difference between touring as a musician and touring as a surfer?
The one major factor that’s different is the scheduling. (With music) the schedule’s like six months out and I can look at a calendar and be like, 'Oh, four months from now at four o’clock I’ll be loading in London' or something. It’s a trip. When you go on a surf trip it’s like, ‘I think the waves are good this week’ and that’s about all you have to know. You don’t have to be somewhere at one. You don’t have to go out on the water at three. It’s not like some doors are going to open up for you at six.
We're sure you’ve been asked this before, but if you had to choose between your guitar and your surfboard, which would you pick?
That’s a really hard question to answer. I always feel like I started off as a surfer and it’s taught me really everything that I know in the world, from my travelling and meeting the friends that I’ve met - and it’s taught me how to play guitar by meeting people on the road. I feel like I could always surf a wave and still hum a song or whatever … I don’t know. I love them so much and I feel like they really enhance one another, too. I get really inspired to play music when I surf and then when I go on a big music tour or something I just can’t wait to get back in the water and feel that sensation, so I don’t think I could choose... I’d hate to lose either of them.
Did you bring any or many boards on this tour?
No … but there’s always people I know in Byron and the Gold Coast and Melbourne and Perth and Sydney, and if I’m at a beach break and the waves are good I don’t think it will be too difficult to find a board. It’s kind of almost better sometimes when you don’t and you happen to find a local who’s got a board you can ride … Before you know it you’re going to a place you never would have known existed if you hadn’t met this one person.
Can you tell us a bit about your childhood and where you grew up?
I grew up sort of inland from San Clemente in Orange County ... so getting to the beach was a little bit of a task when I was younger. The thing I remember most from my childhood was that at a young age ... I got my first surf board and I was so addicted to surfing ... my parents were just so supportive in getting me to the beach as much as they could. I remember my dad taking me to contests every weekend all up and down the California coast. I look back at everything that they did for me and I always (say to) them, “Oh I can’t believe you guys let me go to Indo when I was 13”. They did things that I don’t know if I’d let my son do nowadays. They just say I was so obsessed with surfing they couldn’t really stop me from doing it so they just kind of had to support me.
What’s the best thing, for you, about being a parent?
Well, for me, having two boys is just an incredible, epic journey. I have a seven-year-old and a 12-year-old. Every day they seem to surprise me and teach me things, and then I get to share things with them. I think it’s one of the most amazing gifts in the world that my wife and I are able to have two children. My son’s 12 and he started a band, he plays guitar and he sings. It’s definitely one of the highlights of my life watching my son perform.
Do you have any hidden talents?
I’ve been painting a lot lately. I’ve been incorporating a lot of memorabilia from musicians I’ve loved over the years, like Hendrix and Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones. I love working with canvasses and layers of things. I don’t know if it’s a hidden talent yet or just something I’ve been getting into.
What do you love most about living in Hawaii?
I love how simple it is. I feel like I’m living in a dream world over here. I feel like my life on the road is so crazy and hectic, I come home and I just have to have some place I can just recharge for the next adventure.
Donavon Frankereiter is touring Australia until April 18, 2015. Get tickets here.