On Friday, KSBW reported that Jack O’Neill — the surf icon, wetsuit pioneer and founder the O’Neill surf brand — passed away. He was 94 years old.
— SFGate (@SFGate) June 2, 2017
O’Neill is credited by many as inventing the first wetsuits for surfing in the 1950s. He opened up a surf shop in California in 1952 — a shop that was simply called “Surf Shop” and located on San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, as reported by KSBW. He later moved the shop down to Santa Cruz in 1959.
“Guys were using sweaters from the Goodwill,” O’Neill told KSBW in 1999 about the surf gear prior to his neoprene wetsuit. “I remember one guy got a jumper from the Goodwill and sprayed it with Thompson’s water seal, and he set out there in an oil slick.”
While surf historian Matt Warshaw told the Los Angeles Times in 2005 that there are a trio of inventors who claim to have invented the westuit, the newspaper noted that most longtime surfers credit O’Neill as the originator.
KSBW reported that, as of yet, O’Neill’s cause of death is not known. The news station reported that he will be remembered for his enduring love of surfing and for helping turn Santa Cruz into the surf haven it is today.
“It’s a sad day for surfing,” big-wave surfer Ken “Skindog” Collins — a Santa Cruz native — told KSBW upon hearing of O’Neill’s passing.
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