World famous surfer and wetsuit pioneer Jack O’Neill has died at the age of 94.
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.
Described as “soulful and encouraging” in a post on the official Facebook page of the company he founded, Mr O’Neill was remembered for his passions as a “surfer, ocean lover, boating enthusiast, wetsuit pioneer, [and] balloonist”.
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Mr O’Neill moved with his wife to San Francisco’s Ocean Beach neighbourhood in the early 1950s where in a bid to be able to surf longer in the cold Northern California ocean he began experimenting with various materials to create a wetsuit to protect him from the chill.
After experimenting with different materials he invented the first neoprene wetsuit – an invention that led to him setting up a surf shop, then another, and by the 1980s saw the subsequent O’Neill brand become the largest recreation wetsuit designer and manufacturer in the world.
According to his family he often look back on how far he had come, saying: “All my friends said, ‘O’Neill, you will sell to five friends on the beach and then you will be out of business’.”
In his later years Mr O’Neill set up the O’Neill Sea Odyssey – a marine and environmental education programme for children that was founded in 1996 and which he classed as his proudest achievement.
Talking about the programme he would say: “The ocean is alive and we’ve got to take care of it. There is no doubt in my mind that the O’Neil Sea Odyssey is the best thing I’ve ever done.”