A paddle out was held on Sunday July 9th to honour the memory of the legendary Jack O’Neill, who pioneered the wetsuit as we know it today. Though there is no official number, it is thought that between 2,000 and 3,000 people paddled out at Pleasure Point, Santa Cruz, where O’Neill lived.
Known for his big bushy beard and eye patch, Jack O’Neill was an eccentric man. He served as a Navy pilot in World War Two, and in 1952 he set up his surf shop, from which the O’Neill brand formed and grew. The sign for this shop was a forty foot driftwood pole, which he dragged behind a tractor across the Great Highway! It was in Santa Cruz that he designed the first neoprene wetsuit, and changed the world for so many surfers.
In 1996, O’Neill set up a programme called the O’Neill Sea Odyssey, a non-profit organisation which has provided marine biology education to around 100,000 schoolchildren. O’Neill describes it as his proudest achievement. The O’Neill Sea Odyssey has left a very fitting legacy for Jack O’Neill - the man who brought so many people the opportunity to stay out longer has encouraged people to keep the sea that they stay out in clean.
“When you get all screwed up and jump in the ocean, everything’s alright again”