March 27, 1923 ~ June 2, 2017
Credited with the invention of the Wetsuit • Founder of the O’Neill brand and O’Neill Sea Odyssey
Surfer, ocean lover, boating enthusiast, wetsuit pioneer, balloonist, and founder of the iconic worldwide surf company O’Neill, Jack O’Neill has passed away in Santa Cruz, California, of natural causes at the age of 94 surrounded by family in his oceanfront home of over 50 years, with the famous waves of his beloved Pleasure Point beach lapping at his deck.
Jack was born in Denver, Colorado then moved with his family to Long Beach, California where he acquired a love for the beach early in his youth. He attended the University of Portland in Oregon, where he received a degree in business.
Jack invented the first surfing and bodysurfing wetsuits during the ‘50s and opened his first surf shop near Ocean Beach. He also coined the term “Surf Shop,” for which he later received a Registered US Trademark.
Inspired by the growing surf scene, Jack moved his growing family 75 miles south to Santa Cruz and opened his next surf shop where the Dream Inn stands today. He then began making surfboards and producing wetsuits for surfers in Santa Cruz and then throughout California.
The surfing craze soon expanded way beyond California, and Jack rode that wave better and longer than anyone in the surf industry. Jack was more surprised than anyone that the business grew to the point that it did.
Jack, Marge, and their family grew the business as Jack traveled the world and became internationally known as a surfer, an airplane and balloon pilot, sailor, fisherman, and adventurer. Jack was recognizable for his eye patch (which happened when his surfboard hit his left eye while riding a wave) and his beard and was often seen driving around Santa Cruz in his convertible Jaguar.
By 1980 O’Neill was a thriving international business and the world’s largest ocean recreation wetsuit designer and manufacturer. As worldwide interest in surfing exploded, so did the O’Neill surf brand in Australia, Europe, Japan, and beyond.
For his proudest achievement, in 1996 Jack established O’Neill Sea Odyssey (OSO), a marine and environmental education program. He used his personal Team O’Neill catamaran to take over 30 children at a time into the newly designated Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and provided a coast-side classroom and laboratory building in the Santa Cruz Harbor.
Now over 20 years old, the O’Neill Sea Odyssey program is one of the largest of its kind in the world, having hosted nearly 100,000 school-aged children. Remarking on OSO, Jack said, “The ocean is alive and we’ve got to take care of it. There’s no doubt in my mind that the O’Neill Sea Odyssey is the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Jack has left behind many dear friends and was predeceased by wife Marjorie in 1972, and son Mike in 2012, and is survived by his wife Noriko, daughters Cathi, Bridget and Shawne, sons Pat, Tim (Lisa) and Jack Jr., and grandchildren Uma, Riley, Connor, Bridget, Phoenix and Kodiak.
Memorial contributions in support of Jack’s love of the oceans may be sent to http://oneillseaodyssey.org
Article and photos based on the O’Neill Sea Odyssey blog