by Jennifer Yarbrough
The story of St. Augustine Beach-based MERA Surfboards is one of courage, resilience and family. Owner, David “Ben” Tiller’s love of surfing began when he was fifteen years old, but had little opportunity to actually get in the water. As the years went on, he found himself in the US Army, then back home as a husband, father and police officer. Not having the chance to hit the water, he kept up with all things “surfing” through magazines and the internet. During his time as a police officer, he also worked undercover for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. On April 28, 2011, during one of these operations, he found himself in a precarious situation, he and his fellow agents exchanged gunfire with the two criminals and Ben’s femur was shattered.
The shooting, surgery, recuperation and post-traumatic stress counseling all pointed Ben in one direction: the ocean, surfing, and more specifically, surfboard “shaping.” Ironically, it was internet “surfing” while homebound that allowed him to learn more about the time-honored art of surfboard shaping. It was there that he bought a “Build Your Own Surfboard Kit,” and hobbled to the garage on his cane to work on it. This time in the garage was his solace, his escape and his chance to reflect. Thoughts of his family and the water were most important to him and he decided that he would make them a priority. He returned to work as a police officer for a time, shaping as a hobby. Eventually the desire to create boards and share that with others won out and he created MERA Surfboards, with each letter in the name standing for one of his children: Madison, Ethan, Riley and Abigail. It was the thought of his children and the water that helped him through and it is now that sense of family and surfing that he wants to share with the community.
He currently crafts boards out of his garage on St. Augustine Beach, but has plans to open a surf shop, The Shapers Sanctuary, where people can, with the help of himself and Master Shapers, create their own boards. He speaks with passion of being able to paddle out into the sea, at one with mother nature, on a board that you shaped with your own hands. If you would like more information, please visit www.merasurfboards.com, check out “MERA Surfboards” on Facebook or, if you would like to contribute to the “Shapers Sanctuary,” visit www.gofundme.com/merasurfboards.
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