Surfing icon Jack O'Neill, wetsuit pioneer, dies at 94

Jack O’Neill, the Northern California surfing world icon who pioneered the wetsuit and opened one of the world's first surf shops, has died at this home in Santa Cruz. He was 94.

The bigger-than-life figure, who sported an eye patch after a surfing accident in 1971, died of natural causes Friday while surrounded by family in his longtime oceanfront home, his family said in a statement.

After opening his first Surf Shop in San Francisco's Ocean Beach in 1952, O'Neill, a Navy Air Corps pilot in the 1940s, began experimenting with various materials for body protection that would allow surfers to enjoy their sport longer in the frigid northern California ocean.

He settled on neoprene, which was used by the U.S. Navy, to produce his first foam rubber vests.

An inveterate tinkerer O'Neill, who opened a second Surf Shop in Santa Cruz in 1959, introduced a nylon jersey lining in the 1960s and produced his first full wetsuit by 1970. Skeptical surfers, who initially rejected the concept as less than manly, quickly flocked to the new product, which eventually carried the slogan: “It’s always summer on the inside.”

USA TODAY


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