Friday, June 06, 2008

Surf Fridays!

Donavon Frankenreiter - somewhere in Laguna

He didn't know how many he had, so they counted: 75. "I'm not a surfboard collector. All the boards I have, I ride. There's dirty wax on all of them. I ding 'em up, have all my friends ride them. I've never priced out any of the boards, either. I love to look at boards and wonder what they ride like. I don't know, I guess I'm just addicted to the ride."

With wife Petra and son Hendrix (yes, after Jimi)

"The soul arch bottom turn is one of my favorite moves: It's just really fun to get way out in front of the wave and do that."

Back in April 2005 I was on a surfing/camping trip in Big Sur with Jay and his buddy Justin, who at 7am rapped on our tent and said, "Wake up you guys, I let you sleep in. Time to surf!" The surf at Dollar turned out to be a bit scary for me so I paddled back in and had some leisure time to read the latest issue of The Surfers Journal (one of the best mags out there, period). I was fascinated by the article on Donavon Frankenreiter and decided then that he was one of my favorite surfers.

Surfing and music. They go hand in hand for Donavon Frankenreiter, a world-renowned free surfer and musician living in Laguna, CA.

Donavon has a flow and rhythm that you rarely see on the water, even among the best surfers in the world. "The guy has so much natural ability," says Kevin Naughton, half of the 1970s Naughton/Peterson surf-travel writing duo. "Whether he's riding some funky, strange board or whatever, you can see that he's just got this incredible amount of natural ability and talent."

"Most surfers are very consistent in their approach, but Donavon has this spontaneity. He may do something from the '70s or he might do something futuristic. You don't know what you're going to get. And for a guy like me - I started surfing in '65 - to be able to see all these influences through the decades and then see this young guy replicate it and do it with style and functionality, it's rare. It doesn't look forced. And it doesn't look posed," says Duncan Campbell, co-creator of the Bonzer surfboard design and owner of the venerable Cafe Haleiwa on Oahu.

In 1983, while on a trip to see her mother in San Francisco, Jeanne Frankenreiter paid a visit to a psychic. About halfway through the reading, the clairvoyant began channeling information about Jeanne's 10-year-old son. "She said Donavon would be very popular in music and surfing. She said he was going to be a pro surfer and retired at 40 years old as a millionaire. She said that he was a special son, motivated, and that he would travel a lot," recalls Jeanne, more than 20 years later. "She said, 'Let him do what he wants to do because you can't stop him. You have to let him go. You cannot hold him down or you'll stifle his personality. He's going to do it and he's going to be successful.'"

Jeanne and husband Marty kept the soothsayer's predictions to themselves for more than a decade - and didn't tell Donavon about it until age 23. They also took her advice and nurtured their son's quickly erupting single-minded interest in riding waves. By age 14, Donavon was obsessed. He surfed nearly every day and grew into a gifted contest surfer, eventually winning the 1988 NSSA National Championship in both the Open and Explorer Jr. divisions. Soon Donavon's high school class schedule proved incompatible with his contest commitments and ever-increasing docket of surf-magazine sponsored photo trips.

"So I went to the principal's office and had a meeting with him and I said, 'I'm going on this surf trip to Indonesia for two weeks and I need all my homework so I can do it while I'm over there.' And the guy looked at me and said, 'You know what? You're going to be a loser, with this whole surfing thing.' I got really upset and told the guy to fuck off," Donavon says, with a hint of fire in his voice. "Then they had a meeting with my parents and told them, 'If you let your son do what he thinks he's going to do, he's going to grow up to be a loser. You guys are ruining his life. He needs to go to school.' My dad just looked at me and said, 'What do you want to do?' I said, 'You know what I want to do, Dad.' So we got up and walked out."

Donavon happily traded high school for independent studies and over the next several years he hopped on surf trips for magazines and videos. Soon, his mug appeared in countless photo features - that unmistakable style dripping off the pages. Before long, contest surfing was totally out of his picture. Instead, Donavon was focused on forging a lucrative career as one of the sports first sponsored "free surfers".

For Donavon, it wasn't the higher purpose of legitimizing free surfing that motivated him. It was more base and instinctual than that: "I just had more fun going on trips and seeing things and places than doing contests. Before I turned pro it was always, 'What are you rated? And that's how much we're going to pay you,'" he says. "Nobody had ever heard of: 'You don't need surf contests to make money, bro. Just get these sponsors to pay you and let's go do surf trips.'"

And that's exactly what he did. For four straight years, Donavon traveled the planet on one huge protracted surf trip.

Surfers don't come much better rounded than Donavon. He can ride most any kind of board - from potato chip to longboard - with equal aplomb, and he excels in virtually all surf conditions. The only real chink in Donavon's surfing armor is big waves. Good friend and former traveling partner Brad Gerlach says, "He doesn't like really large waves. He doesn't want any part of that. He'd rather surf eight-foot Backdoor, which is gnarly too. He just has a certain range and then after that he's like, 'Nah, that doesn't sound fun.'"

While he was traveling, he picked up a guitar in order to master riding a different sort of wave. By his senior year of high school, he was part of a popular live act called Peanut Butter and Jam, in which he learned that taking the stage provided an entirely different sort of pleasure. Donavon's life took a major turn in 2003, when rock star and former pro surfer Jack Johnson gave him his first big break in the music world. Johnson came across a homemade four-track recording of Donavon's singing and song writing and promptly offered to produce his first album.

Donavan dresses the part of a traveling rock star, but his favorite groupies are his wife and son and he brings them along on tour whenever he can. "Playing music is a totally positive thing for me," Frankenreiter declares. "I've talked to people who've asked 'why don't you write more depressing songs? Sure, I have bad days like anyone else, but mostly, I feel lucky. When I pick up a guitar, I feel good. It makes me want to open a bottle of wine and have a party, and that's what I'd like people to feel when they listen to my music."

Of course, some see Donavon's transition away from surfing and into the music profession as a mistake. Brad Gerlach: "I told him, 'You're in the upper one-percent of the world in your sport, and in music you're not even close. That's fun and everything, but dude, you're kind of walking away from a legacy that you can leave in the sport, that you could still leave in music later in life.' I told him that, but when someone's focused on something, they're just really focused on that. And that's okay. But inside him is a fricking really, really talented surfer. He rips. If you took him away from his music and said, 'Okay, you're not fucking playing nothing but a ukulele and you're going on a surf trip for six months and you're not going to bring any of those stupid retro boards.' If he'd only surf short boards and he'd let me train him," Gerlach continues, "I'd put him up against any of the best pros in the world right now. He's 31, so he's right on the edge there, but it'd be an interesting experiment. It'd probably blow some people away with how good he surfs."

Trestles and San Onofre flash by at 80 miles an hour as they race to San Diego for Donavon's gig at a local radio station. There's swell in the water and Donavon cranes his neck for a peek. He gets a sharp glint in his eye after hearing Brad's mad scientist plan to get Donavon back into contest surfing shape. "Yeah, that'd be really fun," he says with a wry grin. Then Donavon gazes back out the window and says, "And I don't think it would take six months."

Donavon and Jack Johnson singing "Heading Home"

From the surf film, "Shelter". Donavon is in the green board shorts.


pushingtide said...

Pineapple, you got a stokin' site here. Really do your homework!

Ryan said...

Surf Friday rules. Nice new logo too! Radness...

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