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Born in Chicago in 1971, O'Connell moved to Newport Beach and then Dana Point in the early 80’s where he was a member of the Dana Hills High surf team. In 1990 O'Connell represented the United States in the World Amateur Championships in Japan, winning the first event and finishing ninth overall in the Open Division also winning two PSAA events. He gained celebrity status when he took one of the lead roles in Bruce Brown's remake of his 1966 classic, The Endless Summer. He maintained his seed for many seasons, peaking in 1998 at 11th on the WCT and 10th in the Surfer Poll. The same year, he and fellow Orange County businessmen launched The Realm, a start-up clothing venture. 
- The Endless Summer 2 1994 Director: Bruce Brown
- The Endless Summer 2 (1994) Director: Bruce Brown
- The Endless Summer Revisited (2000) Dana Brown
- Chasing Dora (2006) Thomas Joseph Barrack III & Wes Brown