Surfing world icon Jack O'Neill who pioneered wetsuit dies


Surfing world icon Jack O'Neill who pioneered wetsuit dies

Jack O'Neill, who pioneered a wetsuit that helped popularize cold-water surfing and built a massive surfing enterprise, died at age 94 of natural causes at his California home. O'Neill wetsuits and stickers fill every lineup and no surf check along East Cliff Drive is even possible without driving by or walking by that single green house that sits between Pleasure Point and The Hook - Jack's house.

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 early wetsuits were eyed with skepticism, but he continued experimenting with neoprene, a material that is still used today.

Talking about the programme he would say: "The ocean is alive and we've got to take care of it".

O'Neill long praised Santa Cruz as the hub of surfing, outside of Southern California's more welcoming water temperatures.

In San Francisco he opened one of the area's first surf shops but in 1959 moved his growing family 75 miles (120km) south to Santa Cruz, where he opened his second shop to cater to the city's growing surf scene.

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.

"All I wanted to do was surf, and when I opened that shop in my garage, I thought I would have a few guys there to sell suits and have guys to surf with".

O'Neill spent the next three decades refining and perfecting the wetsuit, and gaining a name for himself around the country and eventually globally, by giving surfers, divers, and all types of watermen and women the freedom to explore cold water locations. His son took over the business in 1985. "And what he brought to this community", big wave surfer Peter Mel told KSBW8.