Jack O'Neill (businessman)

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Jack O'Neill
Jack O'Neill (cropped1).png
Born(1923-03-27)March 27, 1923
DiedJune 2, 2017(2017-06-02) (aged 94)
Alma materSan Francisco State University
Known for
  • Inventor and manufacturer
  • Surfshop retailer
  • Founder of surf board/surf-wear brand O'Neill
  • Marine conservationist
Marjorie Bennett
(died 1973)

Jack O'Neill (March 27, 1923[1] – June 2, 2017) was an American businessman, often credited with the invention of the wetsuit,[2] and the founder of the surfwear and surfboard company O'Neill.

Early life[edit]

O'Neill grew up in Oregon and southern California, where he began body surfing in the late 1930s. He was a Navy pilot during World War II.[3] O'Neill later moved to San Francisco in 1949 and earned a bachelor's degree in liberal arts at San Francisco State University.[4]


In 1952, he founded the O'Neill brand while opening one of California's first surf shops in a garage on the Great Highway in San Francisco, close to his favorite bodysurfing break at the time.[2] This led to the establishment of a company that deals in wetsuits, surf gear, and clothing.[5] Jack O'Neill's name is attached to surfwear and his brand of surfing equipment.[6] Although O'Neill is widely believed to be the inventor of the wetsuit, an investigation concluded that UC Berkeley physicist Hugh Bradner was most likely the original inventor.[7]

In December 1996 he began a non-profit organization called O'Neill Sea Odyssey which provides students with hands-on lessons in marine biology and that teaches the relationship between the oceans and the environment.[8] It has hosted about 100,000 children since it started.[9]

Personal life[edit]

He was married to Marjorie, who died in 1973, and they had six children.[4]

O'Neill resided on a beachfront property in Santa Cruz, California, from 1959 until his death on June 2, 2017.[10][11][12][13][14]

His granddaughter Uma O'Neill is a New Zealand-born equestrian rider, who represents that country and holds both New Zealand and American citizenships, she was selected to compete at the 2020 Summer Olympics.[15]


In 2002, O'Neill was an EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award recipient for the Northern California Region.[16]


  1. ^ Floater. "Surf legend Jack O'Neill hits 89". epicsurf.com.au. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
  2. ^ a b Drew Kampion and Ben Marcus (December 2009). "Jack O'Neill". Surfing Encyclopedia. Surfline, Inc. Retrieved October 8, 2011.
  3. ^ "Surfing Icon Jack O'Neill, wetsuit pioneer, dies at 94". First Coast News. June 3, 2017. Retrieved June 3, 2017.
  4. ^ a b "Jack O'Neill, who pioneered the wetsuit and popularized cold-water surfing, dies at 94". Los Angeles Times. June 2, 2017.
  5. ^ Willis, Clint (2003). Big Wave: Stories of Riding the World's Wildest Water. Thunder's Mouth Press. p. 281. ISBN 978-1-56025-501-7.
  6. ^ Guisado, Raul; Jeff Klaas (2005). Surfing California: A Complete Guide to the Best Breaks on the California Coast. Globe Pequot. p. 125. ISBN 978-0-7627-2966-1.
  7. ^ Eisenstadt, David (October 11, 2005). "Surfing whodunit". Los Angeles Times.
  8. ^ "Senator Boxer Gives "Conservation Champion" Award to O'Neill Sea Odyssey" (Press release). Barbara Boxer. May 27, 2005. Archived from the original on June 12, 2010.
  9. ^ Croffie, Kwegyirba (June 3, 2017). "Jack O'Neill, wetsuit and surfing pioneer, dies at 94". CNN.
  10. ^ Klinger, Max (May 27, 2012). "Jack O'Neill, 89, a surfing legend who endures". San Francisco Chronicle. SFGate.com. Retrieved May 29, 2012.
  11. ^ Gustafson, Eric "How wet-suit pioneer Jack O’Neill shaped surfing culture", August 7, 2015. sfgate.com.
  12. ^ Floater (June 3, 2017). "Jack O'Neill, Santa Cruz Surfer Wetsuit Pioneer, Dies At 94". KSBW.
  13. ^ "From the O'Neill Family". O'Neill Sea Odyssey. Archived from the original on February 17, 2018. Retrieved June 4, 2017.
  14. ^ Burton, Marta (June 4, 2017). "RIP Jack O'Neill: surfer legend & businessman is mourned". RPRNmag newsmagazine. Retrieved June 5, 2017.
  15. ^ "Equestrian O'NEILL Uma - Tokyo 2020 Olympics".
  16. ^ Jack O'Neill Honored SURFER Magazine. 27 June 2002.

Further reading[edit]