"I've been surfing professionally since I was 16, and I'm 32 now," Frankenreiter told Pollstar on a day off squeezed between a trip to Brazil and a festival in the beach town of Del Mar, Calif. "So I've been doing this for a long time, traveling around the world, surfing and making my living."
Billabong, the Australian clothing line, sponsors Frankenreiter and his surfing team, and recently made news by purchasing a seaplane for the team to chase the perfect wave.
"We did a lot of press on that!" he excitedly explained. "They are retrofitting it so it can fit two jet skis up in the wings and put some beds in there. What happens is, you go on a surfing trip to, say, Tahiti and you go from island to island by boat. When you go by boat, you might go no more than 12 knots; that's tops.
"So, the whole idea is staying in the harbor in Tahiti, for example, and there's a million islands out there that have never ever been surfed. And they've never even been seen, because to do it on a boat would take your whole life! Having this seaplane, you can fly over these million different waves in a matter of hours and just land it, drop the anchor, jump out of the plane, put the jet skis down and motor over to the waves."
Frankenreiter plans a trip later in the year to try out the plane on the South African coast, but it will have to wait until after he and his band swing through the Coachella and New Orleans Jazz & Heritage festivals, and a tour of Europe. He's just wrapped up an outing to Australia and New Zealand
convenient to play and surf.
"I still do it. I still get paid to surf, travel and tour, just doing the surfing thing. The music thing, this is the first year that I've been able to do what I'm doing. The record came out last year and we've just been kind of going out and supporting that."
It's hard to call Frankenreiter a protege of fellow surfer/singer Jack Johnson, as they've known each other since they were teens, spending winters surfing the north shore of Hawaii. But it's as accurate a description as any in which his music career is concerned.
Johnson signed his old friend to his Universal imprint, Brushfire Records, in 2003 and took Frankenreiter out on his own tours. Johnson also contributes to tracks on Frankenreiter's eponymous debut album. In a way, Johnson's gesture mirrored that of Ben Harper
who did the same thing to help Johnson establish his career a few years earlier.
"Over the period of the last 17 years, I've seen his musical career take off and my surfing career's really taken off," Frankenreiter said of Johnson. "I've seen him in Australia in concert and in Europe and he always knew that I played and wrote music and was really into it. But we never thought anything would really happen.
"Then he got so successful that he was able to start his own label and that's kind of how it all came to be. I heard through the grapevine he was starting his own label and I called him and said, 'Hey man, this may be a good opportunity. Why don't you sign me and let's make a record?'"
Johnson did, and called out another old buddy, G. Love, to play on some tracks. Donavon Frankenreiter was released last May, and a year of extensive global touring followed.
Now Frankenreiter had a label, but no manager or agent. He lined those up in much the same unconventional way
by telling them they should sign him.
"I wound up getting (agent) Tom Chauncey and Mike (Soens) was working in the [Brushfire] office and thought it would be a good opportunity to step it up and do what he's always wanted to do, which was manage an artist. So he stopped working at Brushfire and started managing me.
"I was like, 'Mike, man, are you gonna work here or are you going to do what you've always wanted to do
manage an artist? Let's try to make this happen.'
"It's hard to find a good manager that you can relate to and somebody you can trust
somebody you know is fighting for you the whole way and is really passionate about your music and not just, 'Let's make it big and make money.'"
The "making money" part was probably lower on Frankenreiter's priority list when he decided to embark on a music career. After all, he was already traveling the world as a pro surfer and making a decent enough living to pay the bills and enable his wife, Petra, and son, Hendrix, to travel with him.
"They go everywhere with me," he said. "I've made this musical thing for me because she was with me before all this stuff happened. So it was kind of our decision together. We didn't really even have to make a decision because I never wanted to make this music thing like a job, like, 'OK, I've gotta go play music now. See you later,' because I would never see them. There was no possible way I could do that because I've got to see my boy grow up."