Jack O'Neill: Surf wetsuit pioneer dies

Ross Houston
June 3, 2017

Around 65 years ago, O'Neill started a small surf shop in San Francisco and created his neoprene prototype wetsuit, which keeps then body warm and safe even in the chilled waters.

By the 1980s, O'Neill had become the world's largest recreation wetsuit designer and manufacturer and the O'Neill surf brand had reached Australia, Europe, Japan and other corners of the globe.

According to a statement released by his family the surfing icon, who was famously known for wearing a distinctive eye patch - the result of a surf injury where he hit his board while riding a wave - died at home in Santa Cruz surrounded by his family.

O'Neill's entrepreneurial spirit was on display when he revealed a neoprene wetsuit prototype.

He opened a surf shop in San Francisco but in 1959 moved his growing family 75 miles south to Santa Cruz, where he opened his second shop to cater to the city's growing surf scene. In 1952 he founded the O'Neill brand, determined to make surfing in Northern California waters for more than a few minutes at a time possible.

Later in life, he began to focus on marine environmental causes, setting up the O'Neill Sea Odyssey in 1996, something he considered his proudest achievement.

In a 1999 interview, O'Neill said that prior to the wetsuits, surfers would use sweaters from Goodwill - some sprayed with Thompson's water seal.

He eventually was able to step away from the business, leaving the CEO role to son Pat O'Neill in the 1980's, freeing him to sail, surf and travel the world.

"One of the guys up there told me: "O'Neill, you are going to sell the five guys on the beach and you are going to be out of business".

Meanwhile, the surfing fraternity mourned the veteran's death, according to a report.

Surfer Perter Mel added that driving past O'Neill's house is a friendly reminder of the importance of the sport and what O'Neill brought to it, KSBW.com adds.

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