From Sewer Peak and Around the World, the World Remembers Jack O’Neill (1923 – 2017)
You can miss Jack O’Neill. You can remember him. You can think of all the ways he affected your life and kept you from freezing your whatever off, or how Sea Odyssey introduced a younger you and/or your children to the Secrets of the Sea.
But don’t feel too bad for Jack O’Neill – aka The Cheese. Born in 1923, Jack O’Neill was one of those guys who did pretty good at this game of life. He had timing. Lots of it. Timing plus talent plus drive plus brains plus passion plus vision plus a cool balloon = a good, long life.
Born in 1923 meant he was a teenager of the Depression and prime age for World War II – where he served in the Navy.
In the 1950s, O’Neill was living in San Francisco and selling parking meters. He would head down to Ocean Beach to clear his head, but was literally freezing his balls off, which lead to him experimenting with neoprene rubber he had seen on an airplane, which lead to the first crude surfing wetsuit.
Jack opened a “surf shop” at Ocean Beach and did well enough to inspire a move to Santa Cruz in 1959, where he opened a shop on the beach at Cowells – and left him perfectly positioned to supply the surfing boom, which began with the movie Gidget in 1959 and then exploded through most of the 1960s.
The right place at the right time with brains and business acumen and drive and luck and consistency and patience and vision. From the 1960s to now, O’Neill Inc. has thrived with wetsuits as the foundation, and clothing, surfboards, accessories and retail shops on top of that.