Wetsuits are so extremely cool. Robust, even. Not a lot the skinny, brittle wetsuit tops you may put on above trunks to fend off a lukewarm tropical breeze, however the 5 or 6 millimeter thick, hooded fits of neoprene armor that enable surfers to chase waves alongside the frozen shores of winter New England, the drizzly chilly Pacific Northwest, and even nearer to the poles—Iceland, Alaska, Antarctica.
Though, what is likely to be even cooler, or at the least more durable, is soaking a wool sweater in oil, then duct-taping it to your physique as a way to fend off the chilly water of San Francisco, at the least for 20 or 30 minutes surf time, earlier than retreating to a roaring fireplace on the seaside, perhaps a warming slug from a handed round whiskey bottle. Which is what surfers did earlier than the wetsuit.
Jack O’Neill bridged that hole. No person actually appears to agree on who precisely invented the browsing wetsuit, but it surely was O’Neill’s bearded, eye-patch carrying face, the visage of a noble pirate, that helped promote the thought to the world, at the least as a lot because the efficiency of the early wetsuits themselves. He was a badass that impressed surfers world wide to deal with colder, greater, tougher surf. He helped encourage us to be our most badass selves, in different phrases.
Dude additionally lived one hell of a life.
Though, what is likely to be even cooler, or at the least more durable, is soaking a wool sweater in oil, then duct-taping it onto your physique as a way to fend off the chilly water of San Francisco, at the least for 20 or 30 minutes surf time, earlier than retreating to a roaring fireplace on the seaside, perhaps a warming slug from a handed round whiskey bottle.
O’Neill was born in Denver, Colorado, in 1923, however quickly moved along with his household to Lengthy Seashore, California. He began bodysurfing within the 1930s and shortly fell in love with the ocean. He served as a pilot for the Navy through the Second World Battle, and after hostilities ended, O’Neill moved to Oregon to attend enterprise courses at Portland State. Ventures to the Oregon coast launched O’Neill to wilder and much colder waters than he ever skilled in Southern California and maybe instilled a style for the rugged coastlines of Northern California and the Pacific Northwest.
After graduating in 1949, O’Neill moved to San Francisco, California, working as a lifeguard, a longshoreman, and a taxi driver. He discovered a small however devoted crew of courageous surfers who tackled the punishing waves of Ocean Seashore that broke in water as chilly as 48 levels within the winter, warming solely to the mid-50s within the fall. For heat, they’d strive the sweater and booze approach, continually on the verge of hypothermia. O’Neill joined their blue-lipped ranks, and in 1952 opened one of many first surf retailers in California, merely named “Surf Store” out of a beachfront storage.
Shortly, O’Neill realized there needed to be a means to make use of know-how to remain heat within the frigid sea. He started toying with making tops out of froth rubber, then deserted that for the comparatively new materials of neoprene, an concept that got here to him, he’d later say, after seeing an uncovered strip of neoprene insulation in a passenger plane. By 1952, O’Neill was promoting the beta model of the neoprene browsing wetsuit.
That is when the query of who really invented the wetsuit turns into somewhat fuzzy.
A UC Berkeley physicist doubtless made the primary neoprene wetsuit in 1951, and the Meistrell brothers, who based Physique Glove Wetsuits, began making dive and surf-specific neoprene fits in 1952 as nicely. It’s doubtless the Meistrells and O’Neill merely hit on the identical concept at roughly the identical time, however O’Neill’s reputation skyrocketed, whereas the Meistrell’s efforts remained a sluggish burn.
O’Neill moved 75 miles south to Santa Cruz in 1959, opened a second surf store, and proceeded to construct a surf firm empire. His advertising genius and innovation pushed the O’Neill wetsuit far out in entrance of any competitors and popularized the wetsuit world wide. Instantly, surfers in coldwater locations like South Africa, England, Chilé—you title it—had been capable of surf longer, discover their coastlines a bit extra, and to make browsing a year-round journey, relatively than merely a summertime passion.
Browsing remained O’Neill’s private focus, outdoors of the enterprise, as did just about some other seagoing exercise he might pursue. Whereas utilizing an early type of the surfboard leash in 1971, invented by his son the earlier 12 months, O’Neill’s surfboard shot again at his face after wiping out at a break in Santa Cruz. The board destroyed his left eye. O’Neill wore an eyepatch for the remainder of his life and astutely used his personal tough-as-nails-looking face as a emblem for the model for years after the accident.
O’Neill was an achieved sailor, along with being a browsing businessman, and would go on long-distance crusing cruises alongside the coast. He additionally continued flying, piloting sizzling air balloons over the Bay Space, generally portray the O’Neill emblem on the balloon and alighting close to surf contests as a form of advertising gimmick. He’d even launch the balloon from the deck of his sailboat. Not content material to sail solely on the water, he invented the sandsailer, a wheeled craft with a sail he’d use to scoot round Central Californian seashores, pushed by the brisk afternoon winds, a smile plastered beneath his sand and salt-encrusted beard.
By 1980, he was promoting extra wetsuits than anybody else on earth and began to show towards philanthropy. O’Neill based the Sea Odyssey program in 1996, a scholastic program that introduced schoolkids out on his huge crusing catamaran and sailed all through Monterey Bay, educating them concerning the ocean, crusing, and the significance of defending the marine setting.
“The ocean is alive, and we’ve obtained to maintain it,” O’Neill stated about this system. “There is no such thing as a doubt in my thoughts that the O’Neill Sea Odyssey is the very best factor I’ve ever executed.”
Within the years earlier than O’Neill died, on the age of 94 in 2017, his catamaran would usually be seen cruising round Santa Cruz and Monterey, and he was a daily at surf competitions all through Santa Cruz.
The tagline of O’Neill Wetsuits for a few years was “It’s All the time Summer time on the Inside,” and that was O’Neill’s nice reward to ocean lovers and explorers. His wetsuits and his inspiration as a coldwater browsing pioneer helped give all of us lovers of the wild sea the reward of a year-round summer season, the flexibility to surf in inhospitably chilly locations. To be as badass as we might be.