PLEASURE POINT, Calif. – The surfing community came together Sunday in Santa Cruz to remember wetsuit inventor Jack O’Neill and celebrate his life in a paddleout.
Hundreds of people paddled out into the Pacific around 11 a.m. and formed a circle in honor of O’Neill. Many more people stood on the rocks at Pleasure Point, according to Sacramento Bee.
O’Neill died June 2 at his oceanfront home in Santa Cruz at the age of 94.
“Jack was well loved and well respected and he touched a lot of peoples’ live,” Brian Kilpatrick of O’Neill Surfboards said ahead of the gathering.
The businessman pioneered the creation of the wetsuit and founder of the surf company O’Neill.
“All my wetsuits that I’ve ever gotten have been O’Neill wetsuits. He was a really, really good man because, like, what would surfing look like if Jack O’Neill hadn’t been born?” Nathan Goode, resident of Santa Cruz.
O’Neill was known for his beard and his eye patch, which he wore after his surfboard hit his left eye when he was riding a wave, the company said. O’Neill answered an 11-year-old Santa Cruz boy’s question about why he started wearing the patch:
Following his service in the Navy during World War II, O’Neill moved to Ocean Beach in San Francisco. He opened his first surf shop in a garage and the O’Neill brand was born.
Thirty years later, O’Neill became the “world’s largest ocean recreation wetsuit designer and manufacturer,” the company said.
O’Neill’s love of the ocean extended beyond wetsuits and waves.
In 1996, he established O’Neill Sea Odyssey (OSO), a marine and environmental education program that has hosted nearly 100,000 children since it opened.
“The ocean is alive and we’ve got to take care of it,” O’Neill said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the O’Neill Sea Odyssey is the best thing I’ve ever done.”
“He’s legend. He made surfing what it is today so to honor him and going out in front of his house and just remembering him out in the water that he used to surf is just like a huge honor to participate in,” Zachary Herlevi of Santa Cruz.