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Jack O’Neill, wetsuit and surfing pioneer, dead at 94

Businessman and surfer Jack O’Neill, a pioneer in the creation of the wetsuit and founder of the surf company O’Neill, died Friday of natural causes at the age of 94, his company announced.

“Surrounded by family, Jack was as soulful and encouraging as always, reiterating his love for his family, appreciation for a life well lived, his hopes for his friends and the oceans he loved, all within the familiarity of his oceanfront home of over 50 years, with the famous waves of his beloved Pleasure Point beach lapping at his deck,” the company said on its website.

O’Neill was known for his beard and his eye patch, which he wore after his surfboard hit his left eye when he was riding a wave, the company said.

Following his service in the Navy during World War II, O’Neill moved to Ocean Beach in San Francisco. He opened his first surf shop in a garage and the O’Neill brand was born.

Thirty years later, O’Neill became the “world’s largest ocean recreation wetsuit designer and manufacturer,” the company said.

Jack O’Neill’s love of the ocean extended beyond wetsuits and waves.

In 1996, he established O’Neill Sea Odyssey (OSO), a marine and environmental education program that has hosted nearly 100,000 children since it opened.

“The ocean is alive and we’ve got to take care of it,” O’Neill said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the O’Neill Sea Odyssey is the best thing I’ve ever done.”