The local Santa Cruz community is mourning the loss of Jack O’Neill, surfer, ocean lover, boating enthusiast, wetsuit pioneer, balloonist, and founder of the iconic worldwide surf company O’Neill, when he passed away at his Santa Cruz home of natural causes at the age of 94 on Friday, June 2.
Jack died within the familiarity of his oceanfront home of over 50 years, with the famous waves of his beloved Pleasure Point beach lapping at his deck. On Sunday, July 9th, a paddle-out was held to honor his memory – not only in Santa Cruz, but worldwide, simultaneously.
Jack grew up in Southern California, where he acquired a love for the beach as a youth. He attended the University of Portland in Oregon, earning a degree in business. During World War II, he served in the US Navy, and then married and moved to Ocean Beach in San Francisco in the early 1950s, where he began experimenting on his kitchen table with various materials designed to protect against the frigid ocean water in Northern California — all in an effort, he said, “to surf longer.”
Soon the wetsuit was born, and Jack, inspired by the growing surf scene, moved with his growing family 75 miles south to Santa Cruz, where he opened a surf shop near the Santa Cruz Wharf. Shortly thereafter he began making surfboards to meet the needs of the expanding population of surfers in Santa Cruz and throughout California.
The surfing craze exploded and the business grew. Jack traveled the world and became internationally known as a surfer, an airplane and balloon pilot, sailor, fisherman, and adventurer. Jack was most recognizable for his eye patch and his beard, often seen driving around Santa Cruz in his convertible Jaguar. The eye patch was a result of his surfboard hitting his left eye while riding a wave.
By 1980, O’Neill had become a thriving international business and the world’s largest ocean recreation wetsuit designer and manufacturer. Today, Jack is known for helping bring surfing to the world stage and the O’Neill surf brand to Australia, Europe, Japan and beyond.
The surfing icon was nominated by Visit Santa Cruz County (VSCC) when Visit California put out the call to destinations around the state to recommend locals for the True Californians campaign. The campaign showcased the California lifestyle and the unique attitude toward life through the people and places that make the state truly one-of-a-kind.
Joining the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, David Beckham, Jay Leno, Vanessa Williams and other “local” celebrities, the ad featured Jack O’Neill sporting his signature wetsuit posing with a surfboard with the iconic surf of Pleasure Point in the background. The ad was shot on location at his home in the fall of 2010. Local and state tourism officials were on hand to oversee the production, including VSCC Vice President and CEO Maggie Ivy and Visit California Vice President of Marketing Lynn Carpenter.
A true pioneer of ocean ecology and education, Jack established O’Neill Sea Odyssey in 1996, a marine and environmental education program using his personal Team O’Neill catamaran, taking over 30 children at a time into the newly designated Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, along with the dedication of a coast-side classroom and laboratory building in the Santa Cruz Harbor, which he built in 1965. Jack played an instrumental role in the development of the harbor.
Now over 20 years old, the O’Neill Sea Odyssey program is one of the largest of its kind in the world, having hosted nearly 100,000 school-aged children. Remarking on OSO, Jack said, “The ocean is alive and we’ve got to take care of it. There’s no doubt in my mind that the O’Neill Sea Odyssey is the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Memorial contributions in support of Jack’s love of the oceans may be sent to the O’Neill Sea Odyssey.
12/9/2014 0 Comments
Whether we have conceptualized the perfect campaign and are looking for that home run media placement, or a journalist is in need of expertise that we can provide, we cer...