The inventor of the surf specific wetsuit and owner of one of the worlds first surf shops Jack O’Neil died yesterday aged 94.
In 1952 Jack opened his first surf shop, a modest little outfit on Ocean Beach, San Francisco and soon after began making foam rubber wetsuit vests to wear during his bodysurfing excursions, sewing the seeds for what would become surfings most important invention. In the late 50’s Jack opened another surf shop and founded O’Neil Wetsuits, and by the early 60’s the company had become the most dominant force in the wetsuit market.
His early success is attributed to a perfectly placed mixture of marketing, innovation and good timing. Jack would reportedly take his kids to trade shows, where he’d dunk them in ice baths wearing prototype wetsuits, and he was always developing the technology, adding nylon lining to make the suits more comfortable and developing the first ever full suit.
The business went from strength to strength in the latter part of of the 20th century, as surfing culture boomed in America and around the world. In 1971 O’Neil lost an eye in a surfing accident, when his surfboard hit him in the face, seeing him don an eye patch and take on the iconic pirate look with which he is most associated.
Despite his massive contribution to surfing, O’Neil liked to keep a low profile and rarely gave interviews, spending his time away from the lime light sailing and riding around in hot air balloons.
So spare a thought today, as you pull on your suit and head out, for the man who started it all, because without him kicking things off as early as he did, there’s no way wetsuit tech would be as advanced as it is today, and for that we are truely grateful.