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O'Neill

O'Neill

Jack O'Neill was born in Denver, Colorado, in 1923 and was raised in Portland, Oregon. Soon he and his family moved to Southern California. He wandered as a lad, working as a lumberjack, serving in the Army Air Corps and then moving to San Francisco in 1949. Living in San Francisco, O'Neill earned a living as a commercial fisherman, then sold architectural aluminum, fire extinguishers and skylights. He loved the ocean and sneaked away to it at every opportunity, even taking his lunch breaks down at Ocean Beach, bodysurfing in bathing trunks in the briny cold, often alone or with the odd diehard. The O'Neill empire began when he began experimenting with materials that would prevent him from, quite literally, freezing his balls off. He began by stuffing flexible polyvinyl chloride (PVC) into bathing trunks "borrowed" from the Sutro Baths or Fleishacker Pool. Those worked well enough for Jack to begin a family with his wife, Marge. But early wetsuits took a huge step forward when a scientist friend showed O'Neill a sample of neoprene foam. n 1952, O'Neill opened one of California's first surf shops, which he called "Surf Shop." He still has the original business license for that shop. If he wanted to get ornery, he could go after every subsequent place that has called itself a surf shop, but he is a nice guy. O'Neill's first surf shop was in a garage on San Francisco's Great Highway, about a hundred yards from his favorite bodysurfing spot. The shop offered balsa surfboards, paraffin wax and the first crude neoprene vests. People told him he'd sell to the few surf bums on the beach and a couple of tourists, and he would be out of business. O'Neill just wanted to support his growing family.

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