Meet Lukas Nelson
by: Dashel Pierson

Lukas Nelson is no stranger to life on the road. He just returned from Australia, before that Europe, and next all across America for a slog of performances with his band Promise of the Real, some gigs playing with Neil Young, and “a few shows with dad here and there,” too.
“Dad” is, after all, the guy who wrote the seminal nomad anthem, “On the Road Again” – so, yeah, he’s well-accustomed to tour buses and long stretches of sleeping in strange hotels.

“I really feel at home on the road,” Nelson told Surfline during a lull from his time on tour. “I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. It gives me a sense of meaning and accomplishment and, yeah, I feel lucky to do it.”

Nelson, 29, was born in Austin, Texas. He’s one of seven children from legendary folk hero, Willie Nelson. But before he followed in his father’s footsteps, he and his mother moved to Maui, where Lukas spent his childhood surfing, skateboarding, and noodling around on guitar.

“They’re a lot different [Hawaii and Texas], but there’s a lot of similar mentalities,” Nelson said, reflecting on his childhood. “The people are good to one another, they’re kind, they’re conscientious and aware. Both were great places to grow up.”

And if being Willie Nelson’s son wasn’t enough when it came time to choose a career path, then growing up between these two distinctly different locations gave him that extra little push. As Nelson explained:

“Austin is a special place in terms of music, so that had a major influence on me. But Maui is too. I got lost in music on Maui, just jamming, and being introduced into reggae out there. I had a reggae band out there for a bit. It’s just different flavors of the same kind of spirit, so to speak.”

Also on Maui, Nelson became close with the Meola family and, specifically, the elder son, Matt. The two became inseparable, from going to the same school, to surfing with one another daily. They’d surf Ho’okipa, Honomanu Bay, Honolua Bay, and sometimes they’d traverse the island to Lahaina.

As for Jaws, Nelson never caught the bug – unlike his Maui cohorts like Matt Meola, Albee Layer, or Kai Lenny – although he’s not opposed to paddling out in the future, if the opportunity arose. “I’d be into [surfing Jaws] if I had the time to train beforehand, but right now, I don’t think I have that time,” he said. “Wiping out at Jaws is no joke. I’d need to make sure I’d be prepared for that. Maybe there’ll be a time in my life when I can get really into the training. I have a lot of respect for the ocean and I’m not going to try and do something that I’m not comfortable with.”

But whereas Matt and the other Maui boys took the path of professional surfing, becoming some of the most innovative aerialists and big wave specialists in the game, Lukas decided to focus on music.

“At a certain point, I knew that I had a talent for music and I just put 100% into it,” said Nelson. “Just like Matt put 100% into surfing, and he’s one of the best. It’s just a matter of choosing your passion and going for it.”

Soon, Nelson was playing gigs and forming his band, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real. But before the band became the touring outfit for Neil Young – playing onstage with the fabled musician during bigtime sets, like the classic rock enthusiast’s answer to Coachella, Desert Trip – Nelson’s own band began as an homage to Young, and one song in particular.

“Neil’s song ‘Walk On’ – that’s the reason for the band’s name,” Nelson explained. “We were in love with that song, and especially the line that goes: ‘some get stoned, some get strange, sooner or later it all gets real.’ That rang true with us, and resonated with me.”

Not just the lyrics, but the message behind them rang true with Nelson. Through his upbringing, traveling to tour stops with “dad” during school vacations, he had a firsthand glimpse into the manipulative, occasionally toxic entertainment industry in which he planned to enter. And he decided to make a promise to himself, a promise to remain real.

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