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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 – 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.
The scene at New Pier, a surf break in Jordy's hometown of Durban, is the kind of place that requires respect, hard work, and a good attitude to climb the ranks of the pecking order. A fast hollow right that is known for heavy localism, New Pier taught Smith how to excel in both small and large hollow surf. These are all traits that come naturally to this young superstar who has a surfing history longer than most. At the age of three, Jordy's father, a shaper and surfer himself, began driving him to the local beaches and pushing him into waves. "Smitty" or "Superfreak" as Jordy is also known, took to surfing early on, and by time he was 15 knew that this sport was his calling. Jordy has evolved into one of the elite talents of the sport with World Title ambitions. He has mixture of power and progression is one of a kind. We'll see what the future holds.
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.
Even though Timmy Reyes moved to the beach and started surfing at age 9, much later than his peers, the West Covina born, Huntington Beach transplant has made waves on the ASP World Tour and as a surf nomad. A regular footer, Timmy flies under the radar most of the time, choosing to travel alone, and explore his private surfing spots with only his close friends. Just like the off-road prepped truck he drives, Tim is lethal and competitive anywhere in any surf.
Growing up in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii definitely shaped Torrey into the surfer and person that he is today. Pretty much every wave in Kona breaks on shallow razor sharp reef which adds consequence for every surf. This type of dedication has molded Torrey's reputation of being a progressive surfer in surf from 2 to 20 feet. One of the most humble, gracious surfers in the world Torrey brings Aloha to all that cross his path.
Honolua's Hawaiian roots run deep, so it's no surprise that she started surfing when she was only two years old. From day one, this native of Haleiwa, Hawaii has spent her life outdoors enjoying activities such as hiking, skateboarding, and stand-up paddling. Every single day she searches the famous North Shore for the spot with the best waves, spending hours letting the saltwater soothe her soul, and perfecting the graceful technique she's known for. In those rare moments when she's not in the ocean, she can often be found in one of her stylish retro outfits, listening to music and preparing her latest Instagram post.
Surfing has been ingrained in Malia's blood since she was born. At the age of two, Malia started surfing with her parents, catching waves along the beaches of Kauai. Growing up in Hawaii, she has been highly influenced by iconic surfers, making her style fluid and graceful, yet incredibly progressive. Malia is 100% Aloha! She fully embraces her culture, including a love for the ocean. Malia was named Rookie of the Year her first year on the ASP Women's World Tour and has continued to sit near the top of the rankings year after year.
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