We’ve got another sad passing to add to 2017, as surfing legend and the inventor of the modern wetsuit Jack O’Neill has died at the ripe old age of 94. We’ve got more on the eye-patch wearing water icon’s incredible life.
There’s going to be massive paddle outs by surfers everywhere with the news that Jack O’Neill has passed away at 94 years old on June 2. He lived an amazing life and died from natural causes at his longtime Santa Cruz, CA home. Jack pioneered modern wetsuits back in the 1950’s after wanting to surf longer in the waters off San Francisco, but he was unable to stay in too long because of the cold temps. It was his ingenious thinking that led him to experiment with suits that would protect him from the chill, trying out PVC foam-lined trunks and plastic-lined vests before a friend introduced him to neoprene fabric, which he used to design and sell the very first wetsuits. They are still used by cold water surfers and athletes around the globe to this day!
Jack opened up his first surf shop in San Francisco’s Ocean Beach in 1959 and later relocated 75 miles south to Santa Cruz to open a second store, before the town became a world famous surfing destination. He started O’Neill Surf to sell his suits, which grew into a hugely popular brand including swimwear, casual clothing and accessories.
Even today it is one of the most popular brand names in the sport and sponsors a legion of surfers on its pro-team. “I was thinking I was going to have a surf shop down at the beach and have a few friends. I never dreamed anything like this would happen,” he said in a video on the company’s website shot a few ears ago.
Known for his trademark eyepatch which was the result of a surfing accident, he was remembered by many modern legends for his massive contribution to the sport. “It’s a sad day for surfing,” Mavericks big wave surfer Ken “Skindog” Collins. “It’s sad news. You drive by Pleasure Point, and you see that house every time, and you get a little reflection of how much surfing means to this community. And what he brought to this community,” big wave rider Peter Mel added. He will definitely be missed, yet his contribution to the sport of surfing will live on forever.