Last month Jack O’Neill, the creator of the wetsuit and the man who made it possible to surf all year round, died at the age of 94 and the surf scene went into mourning.
Jack lived and surfed with his family in San Francisco Bay, California and wanted to surf no matter the weather. The bay in San Francisco is in the Pacific Ocean however, so during the winter months the water is boltic and no one would attempt to surf in these temperatures in boardshorts or bikini.
Realising that he was limited to surfing in the summer when the water was warm, he came up with an idea that changed surfing forever, a warm suit that would allow him to surf for longer and in all seasons. After experimenting with different materials on his kitchen table, he eventually built his first suit using unicellular foam from a surplus store and changed surfing forever.
‘I’m just a surfer, who wanted to build something that would allow me to surf longer’ - Jack O’Neill
On the 9th of July, surfers from all over the world were invited to join a simultaneous, global memorial paddle out in tribute of Jack’s life. Surfers in England, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Scotland, Canada, USA, Australia and South Africa coordinated a time to paddle out together, in memory of the surfing legend.
‘Watching more than 200 surfers paddle out in tribute to Jack was so powerful and emotional’ said Kirsty Hill who saw the paddle out in Cornwall, UK, and captured the moment in the video below.
Video: Kirsty Hill
Not only did Jack revolutionise surfing through his suits, he also shaped his own boards, he owned a surf shop, invented the board leash, promoted surf movies and in 1996 established the ‘O’Neill Sea Odyssey (OSO)’, an incredible Marine and environmental education program for school-aged children, educating them massively and creating awareness of the need to protect our marine life and environment.
“The ocean is alive and we’ve got to take care of it" he said about the program. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the O’Neill Sea Odyssey is the best thing I’ve ever done."
We can thank Jack for keeping our boards safe (at least attached to our foot!), keeping us warm and surfing for longer in frigid waters and for educating the next generation about the importance of ocean care. What an amazing man.
Here’s a selection of our favourite photos from the global paddle out….