Jack O’Neill was born on March 27, 1923 in Denver, Colorado and moved with his family to Long Beach, California where he discovered his love for surfing at an early age. After completing his Economics degree in Portland, Oregon and his service in the US Navy during the Second World War, O’Neill moved to San Francisco – partly for his love of surfing.
There he worked meticulously during the 1950s on finding a way to stay in ice-cold water for longer. The result of this was – thanks to help from his physicist friend Hugh Bradner – the first neoprene wetsuits which he sold in his surfing shop on Ocean Beach.
Initially ridiculed, O’Neill’s business quickly gathered momentum. He then moved to Santa Cruz 120 kilometers away and became an icon of surfing. As a businessman he proved his foresight when he equipped particularly talented surfers and developed his sponsoring through that.
His ragged beard and eye-patch over his left eye, the result of a surfing accident at the beginning of the 1970s, became Jack O’Neill’s trademark. In 1996 he founded a program by the name of O’Neill Sea Odyssey which has, to date, taught roughly 100,000 school children how to responsibly behave around the sea.
The trademark rights to O’Neill were sold to the Dutch Holding Logo International B.V. in 2007.
On June 2, 2017 Jack O’Neill died in his home in Santa Cruz overlooking the ocean.