The Ballito Pro - Jack O'Neill Story



Jack O’Neill wanted to surf longer… and so he did something about it. His “you don’t fight life; rather work with what it brings” approach to life gave him the means to do, adapt and conquer. Determined to overcome the frigid Northern California ocean temperatures and surf longer for longer periods of time, Jack O’Neill invented the wetsuit, allowing surfers to live the ‘first in last out’ dream and inadvertently propelled the sport of surfing light years ahead simply by allowing surfers to spend more time in the water. Founded in 1952 in a garage in a small town near San Francisco, O’Neill (the oldest surf brand in history) hangs ten with an elite club of revolutionary brands that also had humble beginnings in a garage and grew into global icons.


Now widely regarded as the original surf and snow brand, O’Neill is synonymous with the area where it was created – a region that embodies Mother Nature in her rawest form; a wild rugged coastline, redwood forests, the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains, merciless snow blizzards and icy ocean water temperatures.

The friendly, laid-back surf legend was a continuous innovator. Firstly, Jack invented the wetsuit and then went on to open the world’s first surf shop. He coined and registered the phrase “SurfShop” but a few months later decided to de-register it so that it could be used worldwide. Jack’s son, Pat followed suit and later invented the surf leash.

Having lost his left eye in a surfing accident, the one-eyed surfing icon, also known as One-Eyed Jack, looked more like a pirate with his black eye patch and bushy beard but as it turns out, this classic look become the brand’s strongest label.
With his colourful personality and marketing ingenuity, Jack began experimenting in the early 1950’s with ways to insulate swimwear so that he could stay warm in the freezing cold waters. At the time, surfers were using sweaters sprayed with oily water sealant and laughed at the idea of a wetsuit, some calling Jack “the clown of surfing”. But Jack persevered. He initially began testing the waters with foam rubber but switched to neoprene after seeing the material in the carpeting of an airliner.

By 1980 O’Neill had become a thriving international business and the world’s largest ocean wetsuit designer and manufacturer. As the world became obsessed with surfing, the O’Neill brand blew up in Australia, Europe, and Japan.
In the meantime, Jack had developed a special interest in oceanography and marine education and established what he called his proudest achievement – the O’Neill Sea Odyssey (OSO) – in 1996. Using his personal Team O’Neill catamaran, the programme has hosted over 200 000 kids.
Jack used to say: “The ocean is alive, and we’ve got to take care of it. There is no doubt in my mind that the O’Neil Sea Odyssey is the best thing I’ve ever done”.

Jack passed away in 2017 at the age of 94 from natural causes at his home at Treasure Point, Santa Cruz, Northern California – the place he believed was the centre of surfing.
I the words of The Man himself: “It’s been a hell of a ride. Long may it continue”.