Jack O'Neill: the eye patch-wearing surfing legend introduced wetsuits in the cold waters of the world

Surf legend and wetsuit pioneer Jack O'Neill passed away at 94.

According to his family, the founder of O'Neill died of natural causes at his home in Santa Cruz, California.

Jack O'Neill was born in Denver, Colorado, on March 27, 1923. He started body surfing in Oregon in the late 1930s before moving to San Francisco, where he earned a bachelor degree in arts at San Francisco State University.

In 1952, he developed his own brand - O'Neill - and opened one of California's first surf shops. He named his small store "Surf Shop."

Jack did not invent the wetsuit. The invention of the waterman's second skin is attributed to Hugh Bradner, a UC Berkeley physicist who found a way to trap the body's heat using new post-war materials.

But Jack, alongside Bob and Bill Meistrell from Body Glove, was one of the first to develop a product specially designed for cold water surfers.

O'Neill: the first wetsuit prototypes | Photo: O'Neill

Until then, it was nearly impossible to enjoy an hour of waves in the frigid waters of Northern California without suffering hypothermia. Neoprene wetsuit revolutionized surfing and improved the sport dramatically.

In 1959, O'Neill moved with his family to Santa Cruz. In a couple of decades, his complete line of high-quality wetsuits conquered the world and became a global surf icon. The first model was called the "Animal Skin."

Jack O'Neill lost his left eye in an accident involving the surf leash, which had been developed by his son Pat.

But the eye patch-wearing innovator continued changing the world of surfing, and always refused to be seen as just another successful surfer-businessman. He was a balloonist, a windsurfer, an ocean activist, and a sailor.

In 1996, Jack and his son Tim presented the O'Neill Sea Odyssey, a 65-foot catamaran that promotes marine education and teaches children the importance of preserving our oceans.

O'Neill: Jack was also a balloonist | Photo: O'Neill

"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," the bearded surf pirate once said.

Jack O'Neill lived most of his life in his iconic beachfront house in Pleasure Point, California, the spot where his surfing dream started.

From now on, the legend will be in the water with all of us. Keeping us warm and sharing a few rides.

Discover the life of the wetsuit guru - read the book "Jack O'Neill: It's Always Summer On the Inside."

Learn how a wetsuit is made.