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By Kara Pound
Photo by Kate Gardiner
As a student at the University of Central Florida, Billy Zeits would spend all of his free time surfing at Playalinda Beach in Titusville. Raised in Indian Rocks Beach on the west coast of Florida, Zeits was a latecomer to the surfing world. “Back in those days, it was all about finding the perfect wave,” he explains of his late teens and early twenties. “I wanted all of them and if I missed one along the way, it gave me a serious case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).”
Today, Zeits, who has served as Assistant Director of Parks and Recreation for St. Johns County since January of 2014, finds time to surf when he can — typically in the early mornings or closer to dusk once his work and family obligations have been fulfilled. “Surfing, for me at this point in my life, is about relishing the moment of just being in the water,” he says. “Every wave that I come across makes me happy.”
After graduating from UCF, Zeits moved to the Napa area of California to serve as an outdoor educator for AmeriCorp and be close to the renowned waves of Bodega Bay. “During that time, I ran a farm and garden center for kids,” Zeits remembers. “Every other minute, I was surfing. It’s like an adventure. You can do it by yourself and each wave is its own individual thing. No two are alike.”
A short six-month, surf-heavy stint in Kauai, Hawaii, was followed by another six years in California before Zeits was looking for a “small, affordable coastal town with somewhat regular surf.” That was in 2015. He chose St. Augustine to put down roots and immediately found employment at Stir It Up, Leonardi’s Nursery, and St. Johns County Government (as a beach lighting officer).
Zeits worked his way up in the county, spent a few years as a park naturalist, then a few more as beach superintendent, before landing his current position overseeing much of the County’s Parks and Recreation Department. All the while, he was surfing his favorite spots on the First Coast such as Anastasia State Park, and traveling wherever he could find waves, including Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, California, Costa Rica and Mexico.
“I definitely surf less now than I used to,” Zeits admits. “I don’t go out necessarily when the waves are good, but when I have time. I also ride bigger boards to accommodate the perpetually small conditions. It’s really just about being in the ocean.”
Zeits’ go-to boards are a 6’0 Twin Fin made by Drew Baggett at Inspired Surfboards, and a 9’6 Single Fin Longboard.
As far as how surfing helps Zeits in his professional life, he explains, “Surfing establishes a deeper connection with your community — from people, to environment, to weather conditions. If I can help facilitate the chance for other people to surf, whether that’s a killer parking lot with amenities or new beach access points, that makes for a better place to live for all of us.”