The water sports world lost a legend last week: Jack O’Neill died of natural causes at age 94 in his beachfront home on June 2, 2017. In honor of this innovator and his contribution to oceanic life and water sports, let’s take a look at how his humble beginnings transformed into an international empire.
O’Neill spent the early years of his life in southern California and Oregon, starting to surf in the 1930s and developing his passion for the sport in the subsequent years.
He served in the Navy during World War II, and then moved to San Francisco in 1949 where he went on to earn his bachelor’s degree at San Francisco State University, majoring in liberal arts. He married early in life and had six children with his wife, Marjorie, who passed away in 1973.
Jack O’Neill became most well known around 1952 when he founded and opened a surf shop in his own garage in San Francisco. He later attached his name to his own brand of surfing gear, including wetsuits and streetwear.
The shop was quite popular, as it was one of the first near its location on the Great Highway. It is widely believed that it was Jack who invented the modern wetsuit, though no conclusive evidence exists to support that claim.
Later on, he moved his family to Santa Cruz where he opened his second surf shop. His ability to market and sell his products quickly gained him a name in the business that will endure long after his passing.
In December of 1996, O’Neill started his own non-profit organization called O’Neill Sea Odyssey. This organization is dedicated to giving young students hands-on experience in marine biology, allowing them to learn about the ocean and how its environment differs across the planet.
Over 100,000 children have been able to learn about these things in depth thanks to O’Neill Sea Odyssey. O’Neill’s true passion was the ocean and he wanted to make sure that he could share that love with as many people as he possibly could.
Jack O’Neill left behind and amazing legacy for his children and a wonderful story for us all, proving that you can follow your dreams and inspire others to care about our incredible planet. He will stand as a wonderful inspiration for years to come.
Images via oneillseaodyssey.org