The sound of a guitar echoes through the alley, spilling into the village square in Milan. As rain floods the vacant amphitheater down the road, the transplanted crowd finds a spot in a covered corridor, an impromptu backup location. The collective buzz of anticipation grows. Donavon Frankenreiter takes the makeshift stage to a chorus of cheers, and begins strumming the melody to his latest single. The crowd claps and whistles, singing every word of every song. Cameras flash, fans swoon.
We tracked down Donavon as he was leaving Italy, en route to France and Belgium. He was driving through Europe, on a world tour with what is now his standard entourage (his family and his band), more guitars than surfboards, a big-ass tour bus, and his moustache. Fifteen years after declaring in SURFER that he’d give up his surf career to travel the world in a band, we found him living both dreams.
“That’s a really classic quote,” reflects Frankenreiter. “It still makes me laugh. The funny thing is that surfing is the thing that got me into music, so why would I ever stop doing something that has given me so much?”
At the dawn of the Momentum era, Donavon was a sponsored freesurfer and lead guitarist in a band called Sunchild. The bohemian Frankenreiter later found a starring role in the iconic Drive Thru film series, which saw him ride shotgun through Japan, South Africa, New Zealand, and beyond. His laid-back attack provided a balancing contrast to the competitive dynamic of much of his Momentum brethren. And with his signature camp style and constant jam sessions, he was always putting on a show.
But it was a lady that inspired him to go solo as a musician. Her name Petra, his eventual wife and the mother of his two sons. In 2004, Donavon released his first self-titled solo album, and has since gone on to release six more LPs, amassing a fan base that is listening in all corners of the globe. “I will always consider myself a surfer that plays music,” says Frankenreiter. “That is how it started for me. While some of my fans know me through surfing, some have no idea I ever even surfed.”
Now, 20 years removed from the beginning of an era, Donavon is still on the road. “The ability to travel, to see the world, or at least its coastlines, it is the most valuable gift in the world that I can give my family,” he says. “We travel on a tour bus, sort of like the Drive Thrus, but with my family and a band. That would actually be a classic Drive Thru though. Maybe we should do that.”