Wetsuit pioneer and surf world legend Jack O´Neill dies at 94

Jack O'Neill, the iconic surfer who pioneered the wetsuit that revolutionized cold-water surfing, died Friday, KSBW reported. Best know for his development of the first neoprene wetsuit, O'Neill's legacy stands tall as a permanent mural on a Dream Inn retaining wall at Cowell Beach, near where his shop was stood.

According to a statement released by his family the surfing icon, who was famously known for wearing a distinctive eye patch - the result of a surf injury where he hit his board while riding a wave - died at home in Santa Cruz surrounded by his family.

O'Neill's wetsuit discovery came about after he moved with his wife to San Francisco's Ocean Beach neighbourhood in the early 1950s.

He founded O'Neill Sea Odyssey, a marine and environmental education program for children, in 1996 and considered it to be his greatest achievement, reports said.

O'Neill later moved his family south to Santa Cruz, California, where he opened his second shop, and by the 1980s had become the world's biggest wetsuit designer and manufacturer, though initially his friends didn't have much faith in his groundbreaking invention. Still, O'Neill is widely credited with expanding the surfing culture to cold waters.

In an interview in 2011 cited by the BBC, O'Neill said: "Surfing for me was a very important part of my life".

In the 1990s, he created a nonprofit called O'Neill Sea Odyssey, dedicated to helping students learn about marine biology.

"All I wanted to do was surf, and when I opened that shop in my garage, I thought I would have a few guys there to sell suits and have guys to surf with".

"Nobody is more surprised than I am about how this business has grown", he said.

He eventually was able to step away from the business, leaving the CEO role to son Pat O'Neill in the 1980's, freeing him to sail, surf and travel the world.

  • Julie Sanders