Jack O’Neill’s Innovations Turned The Tide For Surfing

Jack O’Neill wanted to surf longer in the arctic waters of Northern California. Sea lions — well-insulated with fat and fur — play in the numbing sea with ease. With a small aid, why not humans ?
O’Neill, who died on June 2 at the age of 94, was determined to find a solution. It was the early 50s, and he was donning inert wool sweaters and other makeshift gear to try to stay warm and catch more waves at Ocean Beach in San Francisco — therefore O’Neill started experimenting with materials .
He ‘d moved to California after a least sandpiper in the U.S. Navy in World War II, and after completing a business degree from University of Portland in Oregon. He said in a 2015 profile in the San Francisco Chronicle that the breakthrough came in 1952 when his friend and colleague bodysurfer Harry Hind told him about neoprene, a spongy compound developed by DuPont ( DD ) in 1930. O’Neill obtained some neoprene and started sewing it into vests .
therefore, O’Neill ‘s very beginning commercial wetsuits were born. O’Neill had tried to get surfboard shops to carry his vests, then started his own small surfboard shop near Ocean Beach. But he moved his business to Santa Cruz because it had better surf and a bigger community of surfers.

Fast-forward to today, and privately held O’Neill Wetsuits is placid the No. 1 godhead of wetsuits in the world, with more than 50 % market share, according to the company. But it now has plenty of rival, among them Body Glove ( an early rival ), Billabong, Hurley, Quiksilver, Rip Curl, Roxy, Volcom and Xcel .
Though O’Neill ‘s son Pat took over as CEO of the company in 1985, Jack stayed involved until 2005, when he suffered a stroke. Jack O’Neill then stepped back from the business but reportedly maintained his curiosity and creative emotional state. “ He was an pioneer and inventor all the way to his stopping point days on worldly concern, ” said Brian Kilpatrick, frailty president of commercialize communications at O’Neill Wetsuits .

On The Crest Of A Market

Surfers wanted to try O’Neill ‘s wetsuits from their origin, but board shops reportedly thought Jack O’Neill was full of himself when he told them they ‘d finally sell more wetsuits than boards .
His prevision was spot on. Wetsuits enabled surfers to take on cold-water surf locations that no one dared try before. thus, the suits helped expand surfing across the ball and were implemental in building the commercialize for surfing equipment and accessories .
His company has stayed on the cap of the wetsuit market thanks to continuous invention, a hallmark of Jack O’Neill ‘s leadership and his personality .
“ initiation was his most comfortable home to be. He liked to use his genius to find new gorge, ” said Peter Mel, a former professional surfer and neighbor to the O’Neill syndicate, who ‘s now a broadcaster for the World Surf League Championship Tour .
O’Neill was a snatch of a loner and loved to tinker in his home workshop with wetsuit designs and other things, says Mel. Purchased in 1973, O’Neill ‘s house is perched on the cliffs at a long-familiar browse blot, Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz. He constantly modified the theater, excessively — removing posts in the be room that obstructed his ocean see, digging out a basement for a sauna and shower, and putting in a door from a World War II-era submarine .
Surfing and the ocean were O’Neill ‘s passions, flush after a surf accident in the early 1970s damaged his leave eye and resulted in his wearing what came to be his iconic black eye-patch. O’Neill would frequently say “ the three most crucial things in animation are surf, browse and surf, ” said Kilpatrick, who has worked at the company since 1999. however, O’Neill was besides an airplane and balloon pilot, an avid bluejacket, a fisherman and an adventurer .
And he took business risks, excessively. The company led the direction with unusual entries into wetsuits ( some through a neck/shoulder open rather of a back slide fastener ), along with newly zip up designs and newfangled wrinkle construction. It besides took chances with its advertise. Jack ‘s face, with his beard and eye-patch, has hanker been an O’Neill logo. An ad crusade with the company ‘s now-famous motto, “ It ‘s constantly summer on the inside, ” pushed boundaries in 1970 by featuring a bare-breasted charwoman in a partially zipped wetsuit. And the company uses strange product names — a stream wetsuit line is called “ Psycho-Freak. ”

From Innovation To Production

Turning an invention into a intersection has never been a solo ride at O’Neill. Jack sought input from a diverseness of sources : his employees, surfers and friends. “ He ‘d come up with an invention and test it and test it and test it and bounce it off of a lot of people, ” said Mel .
At the company, big plan meetings have constantly been important for discussing new innovations and products, said Kilpatrick. “ Jack wanted input signal from everyone ; he wanted to see an idea from every potential perspective to make sure it was thoroughly and to make sure it would work, ” he said .
He besides challenged employees on their plans and ideas. “ He would ask the most obscure questions. … You merely had to be ready for any, ” said Kilpatrick .
“ Jack could be a harsh critic if something was n’t done right field, ” he added. “ The company was his baby and he was identical passionate about his creation. ”

Intellectual Property, Patents

Patents and secrecy have besides enabled the O’Neill post to ride the wave to business achiever. They ‘d start with “ initiation at the forefront and then they ‘d make sure they had patents, ” said Mel .
The company patented zipper designs, seam construction, wetsuit entry systems, and materials, said Kilpatrick, explaining that “ wetsuits are a lot more technical than you would think. ” Jack O’Neill obtained his first wetsuit patent back in 1964, for a “ foam rubber eraser wetsuit shirt. ” The company has gone on to patent 12 other innovations .
And the party has n’t shied aside from letting competitors know that its designs are protected. “ We ‘ve sent enough of cease-and-desist letters, ” said Kilpatrick .
many of the company ‘s innovations finally have become industry standards. “ then we move on to the following thing, ” said Kilpatrick .
beyond wetsuits, O’Neill besides developed many other firsts for surfing, including the first surfboard rope, the first board bag, the foremost surfboard boot and more, says Kilpatrick. tied the term “ Surf Shop, ” coined by O’Neill, was late registered as a U.S. Trademark .
To allow the company to focus on wetsuits and other technical products, Jack O’Neill sold the iconic brand-licensing and hallmark portfolio for nontechnical products — such as clothe and fashion accessories — to Logo International, a dutch company, rear in 2007. “ Prior to that, we handled all licensing out of Santa Cruz, which was actually fun, but a beast to manage, ” explained Kilpatrick. Farming out the license “ has allowed us to focus on our core competence : construct the best wetsuits in the universe. ”
The company besides kept its four browse shops, two in Capitola, one in downtown Santa Cruz and one at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

“ For the last half-century, our family has taken big pride in designing and manufacturing the global ‘s best wetsuits and associate products, ” Jack O’Neill said when the sale was announced. “ Nothing will change on that battlefront. ”
No fiscal details of the transaction were made public .

Sailing And Science

By the 1990s, O’Neill was besides turning his attention to philanthropy and the stewardship of the ocean. He was a fiscal athletic supporter of the nonprofit Save Our Shores, but he wanted to do more and get schoolchildren involved in caring for the ocean. He loved to sail and had a catamaran in the seaport at Santa Cruz .
“ Jack said he would like to have schoolchildren on the gravy boat and have them learn about protecting the ocean, ” said Dan Haifley, who at the time was executive director of Save Our Shores and in 1999 became administrator director of O’Neill Sea Odyssey .
As was his manner, O’Neill chewed on the estimate of a sailing/science program for kids for quite a while before he launched it in 1996. And he sought remark from Haifley, educators and his son Tim O’Neill, who is skipper of the Team O’Neill catamaran .
The O’Neill Sea Odyssey broadcast now takes about 5,000 students out on the catamaran annually to learn about the ocean and environmental protection. It has served 94,200 students thus far, said Haifley, and the program is wholly free. additionally, each class that participates in the program besides completes a community environmental project. scholar projects have included a creek renovation, building a community garden, and a beach killing .
O’Neill, who was married doubly, fathered seven children and had six grandchildren, came out on the gravy boat with students countless times, Haifley said, instructing them that “ the ocean is alive and we ‘ve got to take care of it. ”
“ Because he was a thinker and because he believed in the action of intellectual discovery, he believed students would become stewards of the ocean through a science-based plan, ” said Haifley .
“ There ‘s no doubt in my mind, ” O’Neill said, “ that the O’Neill Sea Odyssey is the best thing I ‘ve always done. ”


The surfing community in Santa Cruz came together to honor O’Neill on July 9 with a massive “ paddle-out ” ceremony. It ‘s a memorial tradition among surfers, in which a group paddles out and forms a traffic circle in the ocean to say prayers, throw flowers and splash in award of a colleague surfer ‘s legislate .
The paddle-out circle for O’Neill stretched a half-mile across and included 4,000 paddlers and 83 vessels, said Kilpatrick. And an extra 6,000 people lined the cliffs at Pleasure Point to pay their respects to the surfer, explorer and wetsuit initiate .

O’Neill’s Keys

A pioneer in designing wetsuits and other products that made surfing safe and more comfortable to pursue, even year-round and in cool climates .
overcome : criticism from skeptics, who thought his product was a novelty, to build the wetsuit commercialize. Wetsuits expanded surfing into new, previously untested locations and thus greatly expanded the market for browse products .
example : Keep ahead of the competition with ceaseless invention and protect your intellectual property with a patent or trademark .
“ I ‘m just a surfer who wanted to build something that would allow me to surf longer. ”
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