Jack O’Neill was a hard-core surfer who didn’t let the freezing cold waters of California’s North Bay cramp his style. At a time when surf wear meant a pair of inferior surf trunks, or maybe an oiled wool sweater in a desperate attempt to keep from hypothermia, O’Neill defeated the daunting icy waters.
O’Neill struggled to find a way to insulate surfers so that they could surf from dawn till dusk. He found that answer in neoprene, a thick open-cell foam material that was currently a floor padding for aircraft. Jack made the first primitive ‘wetsuit’ in his newly opened surf shop in 1952. The first suits were only glued-together vests, but history was made, and surfers scrambled for the new product.
Surfing exploded with the advent of ‘beach movies’ like Gidget and the Beach Party series. Thanks to the wetsuit, the allure of surf and sand could now be enjoyed even in colder climes, cementing Jack O’Neill as a ‘godfather’ of California surfing.
O’Neill’s entire family got into the surf business, and in the late 70’s and 80’s, a whole new generation was stoked for surfing, and O’Neill was there. You didn’t have to be a surfer to wear O’Neill, as the company expanded beyond wetsuits to put their name on all forms of athletic apparel. Although the surf craze faded, O’Neill remains a top competitor in extreme sports apparel.
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