O'Neill Heritage

Who would have ever thought that a simple quote would change the world of water sports forever? More than 60 years after it has been pronounced, we are still thanking his author.

Jack O’Neill, who has been at the origin of the oldest surf brand in history, is still a source of inspiration for today’s water and winter sports lovers.

Discover, here, how the invention of the first neoprene wetsuit has motivated the following creations of the first historical surf shop, revolutionising the way millions of riders can share their common passion.


It is in 1923 that the O’Neill family’s second child, and first boy, Jack, came into the world in Los Angeles, CA. No “big waves” during this casual life of an american kid during the Great Depression, until 1934.

This first day of bodysurfing in Santa Monica has then become Jack’s second birth date. The day he discovered his true passion, leading him to what he became today. Indeed, few years later, after having tried several jobs and launched a couple of businesses, Jack started creating history by opening the very first surf shop ever in 1952, in San Francisco.

The store would be relocated 7 years later in iconic Santa Cruz. 1953 has then been the year Jack revolutionized water sports forever by inventing the very first wetsuit. This was the starting point of O’Neill’s road to become the legendary brand it is today.

Being first at inventing things has then been a core business for O’Neill. In 1970, Jack invented the supersuit, a new piece of neoprene in which you could blow air to get more confortable and recognizable in case you are lost in the ocean, waiting for rescue.

The following year, in 1971, Jack’s son, Pat, invented the first surf leash. Since then, nobody imagines a surf deck without it to prevent you from losing your board.

Unfortunately, as fate would have it, some assumptions say that this same invention cost Jack his eye. Indeed, during one of many surf sessions one year later, after Jack fell off his board, the deck came back right into his left eye. Was it because of another wave coming back or because of the leash tied to his body?

Jack himself wouldn't know what could be considered as the real reason of this accident. Nevertheless, that very moment is the one at the origin of this classical image of the One-Eyed-Jack, strongest label of the brand ever since.

That, however, didn't stop the company to innovate and, in 1976, O’Neill took over the mountains by launching the very first noeprene snow pants. Then, the 1980’s witnessed the appearances of the first rashguards and split-toe boots. You guessed it, invented by Jack’s crew, once again.

“Without jack, this would be a different world”

- Drew kampion

A heritage to pass down

After being recognized as a true avant-garde and legend of the riding world, Jack’s new challenge is to build and transmit a sustainable legacy to the coming generations.

The main goal is to enhance the importance of caring for our oceans and environments. Since 1996, children of California learn about those responsibilities with the O’Neill Sea Odyssey. Many other actions have also been launched by O’Neill, and some of the brand's figures, following this sustainable purpose.

Some details about them are available on our Social Responsibility page. Amongst those, you will find the O'Neill Blue initiative, the Protect Our Winters program, made by our team rider Jeremy Jones, Out of Bounds and others.

For more information and details about the inspiring story of Jack and his brand, go and read the biography “It's Always Summer On The Inside”
Written by Drew Kampion