Surf legend and wetsuit pioneer Jack O’Neill dies

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Mr O’Neill, who opened his first shop in the 1950s, died of natural causes at his seaside home in Santa Cruz, California, on Friday.

The ocean lover lost an eye and started wearing a patch after being hit by his surfboard while riding a wave in the 1970s.

But that did not end his love of the sea and the surf.

Wanting to surf longer in the cold northern California ocean, he experimented with materials and made a lining that became the first neoprene wetsuit.

He said at the time that his friends did not have much confidence in the future of his invention.

“All my friends said: ‘O’Neill, you will sell to five friends on the beach and then you will be out of business’,” his family quoted him as saying.

But by the 1980s, he was the world’s largest recreation wetsuit maker and designer.

His brand was popular across the world, and his son would eventually take over control of the business, but his proudest achievement was O’Neill Sea Odyssey, which he founded in 1996.

The programme has allowed nearly 100,000 schoolchildren to travel in his own catamaran to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to learn about marine conservation.

He was quoted as saying: “The ocean is alive and we’ve got to take care of it”.

In a tribute, O’Neill USA’s Instagram page said: “Surrounded by family, Jack was as soulful and encouraging as always, reiterating his love for his family, appreciation for a life well lived, his hopes for his friends and the oceans he loved, all within the familiarity of his oceanfront home of over 50 years, with the famous waves of his beloved Pleasure Point beach lapping at his deck.”

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