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First Ever Wetsuit
Jack O'Neill – Inventor of the first ever wetsuit – "I just wanted to surf longer"
After growing up on the West Coast of the United States, Jack O'Neill settled in Northern California as a young man. Inspired by the awe-inspiring natural beauty of the NorCal region, Jack found it increasingly agonizing to make a living as a window and skylight salesman. In particular, Jack felt an especially strong bond with the rugged NorCal coastline and untamed ocean, and was spending as much time as possible in the bone-chilling water. Whether Jack was surfing, body surfing, swimming or sailing, the ocean provided him with a welcome release from everyday pressures.
The more time Jack spent in the ocean, the more time he spent researching and developing a solution to the problem posed by the waves of Northern California: how to withstand the sub-50° water temperatures for longer periods. Jack wasted little time in rising to the challenge posed by Mother Nature, shifting his creative and innovative mind into gear. Reflecting on those first years of experimentation with plastics, as well as his reputation as the pioneer of what became the world's first wetsuit, Jack summarizes the seemingly insurmountable challenge he faced with beautiful simplicity: "I just wanted to surf longer."
He started with flexible plastic foam, one of many technological developments to emerge from World War II (O'Neill served in the Army Air Corps). Sandwiching the porous material between thin sheets of plastic, Jack stuffed it into his trunks and discovered that at least part of him stayed warm. It was hard stuff to work with and almost impossible to weld together, but he was starting to get interested. When he discovered neoprene foam carpeting the aisle of a DC-3 passenger plane, he knew he was in business. Literally.
First Surf Shop
It was in 1952 that Jack opened the first Surf Shop in a garage across the Great Highway. He shaped a few balsa surfboards and sold accessories like paraffin wax and a few vests he started gluing together from neoprene. When the vests started selling, Jack decided to go into the wetsuit business. His friends laughed. They asked him what he planned to do for business after the handful of surfers in the area had bought one. Jack said he'd cross that bridge when he got to it.
The Surf Shop became a local gathering place, and the number of surfers began to grow. O'Neill flew in talented surfer/shapers like Phil Edwards to make boards, and wetsuit sales climbed. Jack developed designs for a shorty and a long john, and eventually a long-sleeved beaver-tail jacket. Soon surfers were riding more waves, and riding them better, in large measure because they could now enjoy longer sessions in cold water, thanks to Jack's neoprene suits.
O'Neill was founded in a San Francisco highway garage by Jack O'Neill in 1952. From that point forwards, the brand has become synonymous with the region in which it originated, and is now widely regarded as the original Northern California surf and snow brand.
Since those humble beginnings more than 55 years ago, the brand has always remained inextricably linked to the unique natural and ideological climate of Northern California â€“ a true product of its environment.
Characterized by its beautiful and wild coastline, redwood forests and snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountain range, NorCal's rugged natural environment, monster waves, frigid water temperatures and ferocious snow blizzards represent Mother Nature in her rawest form.
From the outset, Jack's love of surfing and pioneering spirit came to encapsulate all that the brand stood for. Importantly, Jack's unwavering spirit of innovation was also indicative of a seismic shift in NorCal's ideological climate of the time. Inspired by the free-spirited hippy movement of the 1960's, NorCal became the epicenter of an ideological phenomenon: the freethinkers' revolution.
This new and exciting ideological climate transformed the region into a veritable breeding ground for progressive thinking. Established academic institutions including the University of Berkeley thrived to their full potential, while NorCal quickly became a center for technological innovation as Silicon Valley prospered under an ideological climate that remains favorable decades later. To this day, O'Neill reaps the benefits of being in the right place at the right time.
These are just some of the factors that have contributed to making O'Neill the most innovative and forward-thinking active lifestyle brand today.
For that, we thank Northern California.
John John Florence
John's personal resume is already impressive, and he's still only a teenager:
- three National NSSA titles, including the Boys Open, Menehune and MiniGrom divisions;
- eight prestigious Rell Sun Menehune contest titles (his first at just five years old); and
- he is the youngest surfer to ever compete in the Triple Crown of Surfing on the famed North Shore – he was 13.
But it's his potential beyond those early achievements that has the surf world curiously waiting to see what John Florence will accomplish next. He has evolved from a prodigy surfer with huge potential to becoming the quintessential Hawaiian surfer and a skilled rider who is capable of hoisting multiple World Championship titles.
Now 18, John has matured to compete against the world's best and there's little doubt that he will continue to whip turns and attract attention well into the future. He went four rounds deep into the Pipeline Masters a few years back, weaving through huge barrels against the world's elite. Shortly after impressing at Pipe, John found himself back in the barrel at the Volcom Pipeline Pro, where he reached the semifinals.
Cory Lopez is a man of extremes. Emerging from the shadows of the notoriously wave barren Gulf Coast of Florida, Cory likes to charge massive, barreling waves. Defined as much by the waves he doesn't make as much as the ones he does, Cory's exploits keep everyone guessing just what he will drop into next.
In 1999,just two seasons deep into his WCT career, Cory was in Tahiti for the Gotcha Tahiti Pro. Though he qualified for the tour on his first attempt, he describes his first two seasons as "mediocre." A seasoned surfer, favoring heavy waves like Pipeline, Cory was known on tour as a flashy trickster with his big airs and freakish layback tailslides and snaps. In 1999, however, he paddled in to a monstrous Teahupoo death barrel, and was quickly engulfed by an abyss of blue.
When the swell forecasts predict waves over 40 feet, that's when Australian Mark Matthews starts getting excited. The Australian surfer will drop everything to get to big surf. He prefers his waves thick, slabby, hollow – think Teahupoo, but even scarier – and is constantly redefining the limits of waves humans can physically ride.
When Mark was just a kid, he was terrified of big waves. "I remember being 12 or 13 and if the surf was big, my mum would have to come rescue me," said Mark whose entire family surfs.
When the Reyes family moved to Huntington Beach from West Covina, Calif., they had a love for the ocean, and Timmy entered the Junior Lifeguards program. In high school, after he placed second in his very first competition, Timmy realized surfing was his calling and he quickly became a trophy hunting machine.
Growing up in Huntington taught him how to fight and scramble for waves in the crowded surf, making the man-on-man heat format of the WCT tour seem like an everyday surf session. Spending time with good friends and mentors also helped Timmy progress faster. Guys like O'Neill teammate Bobby Martinez, Anthony Petruso, and Micah Byrne helped make him who he is today in the water.
At only 23 years old, Jordy has achieved a level of surfing success and skill that takes most decades to reach. Whether it's his incredibly focused raw talent or his under the radar sense of humor, Jordy is a surfer who knows how to succeed. Through large airs or massive rail to rail carves, he can always look back to his days at the rough hewn New Pier, where his work ethic and surfing style were honed. The new face of surfing has officially arrived, and his name is Jordy Smith.
Growing up surrounded by the picture-perfect waves of Kauai, Roy Powers never questioned his desire to become a pro surfer. Competing against some of the most talented surfers in the world pushed this regular footer to develop the skills necessary to be a success on the World Tour.
Although he was influenced by other sports such as soccer, where Roy showed great talent as a teenager, surfing was his true calling. Growing up surrounded by a strong waterman tradition, the lure and challenge of riding waves kept Roy on the board through his teenage years. Nicknamed "The Destroyer," Roy came up through the ranks with the Kauai Wolfpack, which taught him the value of brotherhood, honoring tradition, helping others out and standing up for what you believe.
At 20 years old, Sage Erickson is a lot like the surroundings of her upbringing – part country, part surf, and full of life. Sage was born in Ojai, Calif., raised on the North Shore, taught herself to surf as a kid and continues to love life as a professional surfer. She is equally comfortable surfing an international contest as she is conducting on-camera interviews or hosting a fashion show in front of a crowd full of screaming fans.
It's that competitive drive and playful spirit that sets this straight-A student apart from most of her peers, both in and out of the water.
Surfing has been engrained in Malia's blood since she was born. As a baby, her parents would take turns watching her on the sand while the other would catch waves on the beaches of Kauai. As soon as she turned three years old, Malia started surfing with them.
Born and raised in the small lush town of Wailua, Malia has been highly influenced by her culture. Her father is Hawaiian and her mother is from the mainland, however, Malia is 100 percent Aloha. She fully embraces her culture, including a love for the ocean.
Growing up in Hawaii, she has been influenced by legendary surfers in her backyard, making her style progressive and fluid, yet incredibly graceful and poised.
Current European Champion, Alize Arnaud is one highly dedicated and talented surfer. Having strived to be a professional surfer since the age of 5, and dominated the junior circuit, there is no doubt that the 20 year old French surfer is going to be pushing her sport for many years to come.
- 5th ASP World Junior Championships 2006
- ASP European Junior Champion 2008
- 5th ISA World Junior Championships 2006
- 2nd Rip Curl Gromsearch International Final 2006
- ISA Tag Team World Champion 2006
- 2nd Eurosurf Junior 2008
- Queen of the Groms 2005
- French Junior Champion 2005, 2007
60 years of Innovation
John John Florence: The Grind
Cory Lopez – Legendary
The O'Neill Legacy
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