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Donavon Frankenreiter

“I feel like there’s never going to be a time or place when I’ll say, ‘Wow, I’ve arrived.’ I’m forever going down a path of creativeness.” This simple philosophy makes perfect sense for Donavon Frankenreiter, a man who started his career as a professional surfer over 20 years ago in Hawaii and now finds himself sitting in a car outside of the Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano, California, discussing his latest album, Start Livin’, 10 minutes before his next gig. Typically hidden behind a grizzly beard, the brim of a worn fedora, and draped in more necklaces than he has songs on tonight’s setlist, Frankenreiter’s appearance is indicative of a man who has spent his life doing what felt right, instead of what was expected.

Frankenreiter’s determination to carve out his own path began at an early age—picking up his first surfboard at 10-years-old, and his first guitar six years later. The now 39-year-old’s decision to embrace both surfing and music, pastimes that are often rooted in family tradition or simply geographic location, was in fact entirely of his own accord. “I didn’t grow up in a family that surfed or played music. I was an alien to my family,” he says, noting that his friends were even less understanding. “They thought I’d be a loser, or the next Jeff Spicoli.” Even so, Frankenreiter didn’t allow the lack of support to deter him as he tapped into an overwhelming motivational drive that proves an interesting contrast to his ever-present mellow demeanor. Simply put, the man is quite content with the world he’s built.

Success came first in the water for Frankenreiter, who entered the professional surfing world at the ripe age of 14, relocated to Hawaii and attracted sponsors at a time when surfing was not considered to be a mainstream, bankable sport. But Frankenreiter admits it was never part of a grand master plan. “I never started surfing [intending] for it to be a profession. I loved the essence of riding a surfboard.” Yet his talent and ensuing results were undeniable, and the sport that jumpstarted his professional life would soon become the catalyst for his next passion.

From the next sequence of events, it would seem that music was
woven into Frankenreiter’s destiny from the beginning. The move to Hawaii found him renting a room on the North Shore of Oahu from the parents of famed surf-soft rock musician Jack Johnson. Frankenreiter and Johnson became fast friends, finding camaraderie in the waves and their guitars, and crafting their signature laid-back, sentimental musical styles that would later become synonymous with the California surfer set.

Story by Adam Kazansky | Photography by Brian Bielmann

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