Learn everything there is to know about Jack O’Neill, the famed surfing pioneer who invented the world’s first wetsuit. How much money did his business make?
One-eyed When he invented the wetsuit for commercial sale, Jack O’Neill changed the face of surfing culture. He established O’Neill, the most well-known wetsuit brand. Since opening his first surf store in 1952, Jack’s legacy has endured as people all over the world celebrate and enjoy surfing culture, whether it’s the sport itself or the fashion and lifestyle that surrounds it.
JACK O’NEILL FACTS
|FULL NAME||Jack O’Neill|
|REAL NAME||Jack O’Neill|
|DATE OF BIRTH||27 March 1923|
|DATE OF DEATH||02 June 2017|
|PLACE OF DEATH||Santa Cruz, California|
|KNOWN FOR||Founder of O’Neill brand|
|SPOUSE||Marjorie Bennett (until her death in 1972)|
|CHILDREN||5: Shawnie O’Neill, Pat O’Neill, Cathi O’Neill, Tim O’Neill and Bridget O’Neil|
|EDUCATION||San Francisco State University|
|O’NEILL COMPANY WEBSITE||https://www.oneill.com/eu/en/home|
|O’NEILL BRAND TWITTER||https://twitter.com/teamoneill|
|O’NEILL BRAND FACEBOOK||https://www.facebook.com/ONeillOZ|
|BRAND YOUTUBE CHANNEL||https://www.youtube.com/user/TeamONeill|
JACK O’NEILL NET WORTH
|NET WORTH WHEN HE DIED||Approx. $100 MILLION and above|
|HOW DID JACK O’NEILL EARN INCOME||Sales from O’Neill brand, royalties, patent|
|HOW MUCH DID JACK O’NEILL EARN||Approx. $50 Million and above|
WHERE DID JACK O’NEILL GET HIS MONEY?
Jack O’Neil was hailed as a pioneer, and while his claim to have created the wetsuit is debatable, credit must be paid to a man who converted a garage ‘project’ into a multi-million dollar company, O’Neill.
By the time Jack O’Neill died, surfing had grown into a $7 billion-a-year industry, and he was undoubtedly crucial in making this a reality.
O’Neill has gone a long way in his career. It currently sells beachwear, sandals, skirts, and even snow wear in addition to wetsuits.
ASSETS OF JACK O’NEILL
Jack O’Neill resided in a seaside property in Santa Cruz until his death in 2017. In this video, taken by a tourist in Santa Cruz, you can see his residence. Beach mansions in Santa Cruz may cost anywhere from $3.5 to $4 million.
EARLY YEARS OF JACK O’NEILL’S LIFE
Jack O’Neill grew up in Oregon and Southern California, despite being born in Denver, Colorado. It was here, in the 1930s, that he discovered body surfing. Body surfing is often considered to be the most natural way to ride a wave. Bodysurfing is the art and sport of riding a wave without the use of a buoyant equipment like a surfboard or a bodyboard.
When World War II broke out, Jack enlisted in the United States Navy as a fighter pilot. He relocated to Northern California after the war.
THE NEED FOR A WETSUIT IN JACK O’NEILL
After WWII, Jack relocated to Northern California, where the water temperature had decreased by ten degrees Celsius. He added in a 2010 interview with Trip TV that the waters would be so cold that they would cause ‘ice cream headaches’ (presumably due to brain freeze), and that a ‘baby girl’s cap or something’ would be required. He was desperate to discover a technique to stay in the water for longer. To deal with the cold seas of Northern California, Jack and his companions soaked their sweaters in greasy sealants. Not only did this fail to keep them warm, but it also added to their weight.
NEOPRENE AND JACK O’NEILL
Jack’s ‘Eureka!’ moment came when he realized that being warm did not require staying dry. He found that if a tiny layer of water is trapped between the skin and the suit, which is warmed by body heat, swimmers or surfers may stay in the water all year.
Neoprene was the material he required to do this. Neoprene, often known as polychloroprene, is a group of synthetic rubbers made by polymerizing chloroprene. It has excellent chemical stability and flexibility across a wide temperature range. After witnessing neoprene in the carpeting of an airliner, Jack claims to have come up with the concept of utilizing it in wetsuits.
Following this, Jack became recognized as the “Inventor of the Wetsuit.”
JACK O’NEILL VS BOB MEISTRELL: WHO CREATED THE WETSUIT, EXACTLY?
This is the million-dollar question that has sparked the world’s longest-running surfing argument. Bob Meistrell (of Body Glove), a long-time opponent of Jack O’Neill, claimed that he and his brother Bill, from Redondo Beach, south of Los Angeles, were the ones who created neoprene and the wetsuit.
For many years, Jack O’Neill and the Meistrell brothers waged lawsuits against one other.
Because neither of them invented it, they might have saved themselves a lot of time and money. Bev Morgan, the Meistrells’ top surfer and business partner, subsequently said that after reading a study by Hugh Bradner, a physics professor at the University of California-Berkeley, he proposed neoprene to them.
The Navy was the first to use neoprene, which Bradner developed for them. A textile that can get wet and yet keep your body warm. Despite this, the Navy didn’t do much with neoprene, and Bradner’s design was never copyrighted. The irony is that no one was interested when the professor attempted to sell it the first time. Despite this, global wetsuit sales are estimated to be over $120 million each year.
MARKETING GENIUS JACK O’NEILL
As a result, Jack O’Neil may not have created neoprene in the traditional sense. Despite this, he taught the market a vital business lesson: need may be the mother of innovation, but marketing is the engine of sales.
In 1952, Jack O’Neill founded his first surf store on Ocean Beach in San Francisco, just a few years after inventing the wetsuit. When he and his family relocated to Santa Cruz seven years later, he started a second business.
Jack O’Neill finally built a surfwear company that became well-known across the world. And he put forth a lot of effort to promote it. According to Surfer magazine, Jack used to go to trade exhibitions, outfit his kids in wetsuits, and dip them in cold baths in the early phases of his firm.
O’Neill’s trademark slogan was also very effective: ‘It’s always summer on the inside’.
Matt Warshaw, former editor for Surfer magazine and an author of surfing history and culture books says, “Of all the things that Jack is known for, I think his genius for marketing and promoting stood out.”
By the 1980s, the O’Neill brand had gone global, and Jack O’Neill had established himself as the world’s largest recreational wetsuit manufacturer.
THE SEA ODYSSEY OF O’NEILL
In 2010, O’Neill’s YouTube channel aired a video called “The O’Neill Legacy.” The film depicts how the company Jack O’Neil founded in his garage in 1952 has evolved into its own culture and history. And one of Jack’s characteristics is his desire to preserve the surroundings he adores. He developed the O’Neill Sea Odyssey, a children’s marine and environmental education program, in 1996. This, he claims, is his finest achievement. He tells Associated Press, “The ocean is alive, and we’ve got to take care of it. There is no doubt in my mind that the O’Neill Sea Odyssey is the best thing I’ve ever done.”
WHERE DID JACK O’NEIL’S EYE GO?
Pat, Jack’s son, devised the surf leash in 1971, which is now a standard fixture on every surfboard. It consists of a urethane cable linked to the tail end of the surfboard and a Velcro strap attached to the surfer’s ankle. This keeps the surfer’s surfboard from getting washed away by the waves and helps him to reclaim his board swiftly.
That year, Jack was unfortunately involved in a surf leash accident. The surgical tubing in older versions let the leash to overstretch, causing the surfboard to shoot back at the surfer. After a wipeout, the leash snapped the board back into Jack’s eye.
Jack, ever the master marketer, saw an opportunity in this mishap. He’s been wearing a black eye patch since that day, and it’s become his signature appearance. Jack had the image of a pioneering, badass pirate with his wild thick hair, eye patch, beard, and adventurous spirit, which complemented his brand and story well. His ‘one-eyed’ look was even included in the O’Neill emblem at one time.
THE NAME SURF SHOP AND JACK O’NEILL
Although the phrase “surf shop” is now widely used, it was Jack O’Neill who, in 1952, founded the world’s first surf store out of his garage. “Surf Shop” was the name of the establishment. While Jack registered the term ‘Surf Shop,’ he never maintained his exclusivity over the hundreds of other businesses that used the same name. Surf stores may now be found all over the world, in places like Bali, Australia, the United States, and Europe. By not claiming sole ownership of the phrase, Jack had also contributed to the global spread of the’surfing culture.’
DEATH OF JACK O’NEILL
Jack O’Neill died quietly of natural causes in his Santa Cruz home on June 2nd, 2017, at the age of 94, with the waves lapping at his deck.
PADDLE OUT FOR JACK O’NEILL
On the 9th of July 2017, a worldwide paddle out was done as a homage and to pay respects to the great adventurer/inventor who revolutionized the way people swam and surfed. Surfers from all over the globe created rings in the water with their surfboards, some even donning eye patches in honor of Jack, from the beaches of California to Europe and Australia.
RESTAURANT JACK O’NEILL
The O’Neill family and firm launched Jack O’Neill Restaurant in Santa Cruz in 2019, two years after his death. Following the brand’s tagline “It’s always summer inside”, the restaurant offers coastal cuisine and cocktails, giving a relaxed airy vibe with live music and ocean views.
Even after his death, Jack O’Neill’s legacy lives on not just in surfing but also in food.