Jack O’Neill died yesterday, we are sad, in the early 1950’s Jack invented the first neoprene wetsuit and he changed our world. Places that no one could surf due to their frigid waters became destinations, warmer water spots became all-day surfing breaks, and surfing rapidly spread around the world. Then SCUBA divers discovered his neoprene and recreational diving changed as well. If all Jack did was keep us all warm in the ocean we love his contribution to water-men and water-women worldwide would be considered remarkable, but Jack was just getting started, he gave us so much more.
Jack was 94 when he peacefully passed to warmer waters and endless perfect breaks; he was surrounded by family and loved ones in his oceanfront home that afforded him breathtaking views of his beloved ocean. Jack and his wife moved to San Francisco’s Ocean Beach neighborhood in the 1950’s, that’s when he began experimenting with various materials so he could surf longer in his cold water break. That is where he invented the first neoprene wetsuit; he said he was inspired in using neoprene after seeing the material in the carpeting of an airliner. He also introduced the nylon jersey lining that made wearing neoprene next to the skin more comfortable.
His friends didn’t believe his ‘wetsuit’ was going to have much impact at all, they used to tell him “Jack, you’re going to sell to five of your friends on the beach and then you’ll be out of business.” Hmmmm…not quite, 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, Africa, Japan and most far-off corners of the globe.
Not content to relax on his laurels, in 1952 Jack opened ‘Surf Shop’ in Ocean Beach. He called it simply ‘Surf Shop’, it is reported that he even trademarked the name but never requested royalties on the name, today we have tens of thousands ‘Surf Shop’s’, thanks Jack for that as well!
In 1959 Jack moved his growing family 75-miles south to Santa Cruz and he opened his second ‘Surf Shop’ and continued to change the world of surfing. Santa Cruz is now the home of incredible surfers, breaks like Steamers Lane and world-famous big-wave surfers.
Friday, Jack O'Neill died of natural causes at his Santa Cruz, California, home, his family said in a statement, with the ocean lapping at the decking of his waterfront residence. His house where seals would come up to the back door, the house is filled with history, pictures, books, a spotting scope to check the surf and most importantly the aura of his presence.
Jack, the one-eyed, eye-patch wearing waterman was an icon of industry, his marketing techniques were unique and trendsetting, his companies trademarked slogan “It’s always summer on the inside” is a classic. After losing his eye in a surfing accident he incorporated the look into his advertising, at trade shows he would dunk his laughing kids dressed in his wetsuits in tubs of water filled with ice to demonstrate their effectiveness, Jack was pure genius in his marketing.
While creating a warmer way for us all to surf far-of frigid breaks, he also became an accomplished sailor and aviator who flew hot-air balloons the world over. For more fun he invented the Sandsailer, a ‘sailboat’ on wheels that skims across the sand at high speeds accompanied by big laughs of course!
But the thing that Jack was most proud of was O’Neill Sea Odyssey, an avid environmentalist; he launched the marine and environmental education program for children in 1996. The program has taken nearly 100,000 school-aged children in the 65’ Team O'Neill Catamaran to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to learn about the ocean.
"The ocean is alive and we've got to take care of it.”
"There is no doubt in my mind that the O'Neil Sea Odyssey is the best thing I've ever done."