June 3 (UPI) — Jack O’Neill, who pioneered a wetsuit that helped popularize cold-water surfing and built a massive surfing enterprise, died at age 94 of natural causes at his California home.
O’Neill, noted for his eye patch, opened the possibility of surfing in Central and Northern California’s cold waters with neoprene wetsuits after he started experimenting in the 1950s. Surfers at the time had been using sweaters covered in water sealant and other articles of clothing in the frigid waters.
“It’s sad news. You drive by Pleasure Point and you see that house every time, and you get a little reflection of how much surfing means to this community. And what he brought to this community,” surfer Peter Mel said of the world-renowned surf location, where O’Neill lived.
While O’Neill claims he pioneered the wetsuit, his chief rival Bob Meistrell of Body Glove International made a similar claim before he died in 2013. Still, O’Neill is widely credited with expanding the surfing culture to cold waters.