The Loss of a Legend: Iconic Sports Pioneer has Passed Away

June 03, 2017Jun 03, 2017

Surfing icon Jack O'Neil passed away Friday at his home in Santa Cruz, California. The pioneer and inventor of the modern day wetsuit was also known for the black patch he would wear over his eye to cover where his surfboard once hit him. 

O'Neil had a passion for surfing and after he and his wife moved up to Northern California, in the early 1950's, he was on a mission to find something that would help him be able to stay in the frigid water longer. He experimented with different materials until he finally settled on the wetsuit made of neoprene. 

When he was first trying to promote his new invention, not many people had faith in him. His family shared what O'Neil would say when he first developed his idea,

"All my friends said, 'O'Neill, you will sell to five friends on the beach and then you will be out of business,'''

All the nay-sayers couldn't have been more wrong. The invention of the wetsuit changed the sport of surfing forever. Surfers were then able to surf in locations all around the world not otherwise possible due to cold water temperatures.

In 1957, O'Neil opened his first surf shop and from there the O'Neil brand became one of the largest surf companies in the world. Around 1980, O'Neil also became the world's largest recreation wetsuit manufacturer. All of his success began because “I was just looking for ways to keep warm,” O'Neil once remarked.

He passed of natural causes and was surrounded by family at the time. He was 94. O'Neil will be missed by many but his impact on the sport of surfing will be remembered forever.