Jack O'Neill, who paved the way for today's coldwater surfers with his invention of the neoprene wetsuit has died in his home at the age of 94.
Friends close to the surf legend confirmed his passing and told KSBW he died of natural causes Friday morning.
Dan Haifley, O'Neill Sea Odyssey Executive Director, told the Santa Cruz Sentinel he was surrounded by close friends and family at the time of his death, reports
O'Neill, who was born in Denver but grew up in Long Beach, lived out his final days in his picturesque moss-green house, perched on East Cliff Drive and overlooking Monterey Bay in Santa Cruz.
The eye-patch wearing surfer founded the O'Neill surfing brand in 1952, single-handedly trailblazing the sport in Northern and Central California's cold waters year round.
Determined to make Northern California waters bearable for more than a few minutes at a time, O'Neill experimented with different designs, such as PVC foam-lined trunks and plastic-lined vests.
Eventually, a friend working in a lab introduced him to neoprene, leading him to invent the wetsuits cold water athletes use today.
Sixty-five years ago, O'Neill set up his first small surf shop at Ocean Beach in San Francisco and revealed the neoprene prototype.
He said the early wetsuits were viewed skeptically by other surfers, who were used to spraying goodwill sweaters with water sealing spray.
Other men in the surfing lineup cracked jokes about his strange outfits, and O'Neill once recalled a man saying: "You're going to sell to five guys on the beach, and you're going to be out of business," according to the Orange County Register.
Eventually though, they became a staple for the surfing and cold-water sport community, and over time, O'Neill evolved into one of the largest surf companies in the world.
In 1959, when Santa Cruz wasn't a huge surfing town, O'Neil moved there and set up his second shop to sell wetsuits at Cowell beach.
"I remember one guy got a jumper from the goodwill and sprayed it with Thompson's water seal, and he set out there in an oil slick," he said in a 1999 interview with KSBW.
He said he always considered Santa Cruz the "center" of surfing, there just needed to be a better way to keep warm in the frigid waters.
In 1964, he created the O'Neill surfing team, finding up-and coming surfers and giving them new boards.
His Santa Cruz shop also offered the world's first beach-side board rentals.
The pirate-like eyepatch he wore was a result of a surfing accident in 1971 at "the Hook," a surfing spot in Santa Cruz near O'Neill's home.
In 1985, O'Neill's son Pat assumed CEO position of his father's company, leaving Jack free to surf, sail and enjoy his life in Santa Cruz.
During his retirement, he also focused on environmental projects. He had a strong interest in saving the great white shark from extinction, and also developed the O'Neill Sea Odyssey program, a free, educational cruise aboard his team's catamaran that familiarized kids with the microbiology of the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary, according to the company's website.
"It's a sad day for surfing," big wave surfer Ken "Skindog" Collins told KSBW Friday.
O'Neill's close friend Richiard Novac said he heard about the death on Friday afternoon from one of his family members.
"Jack was probably one of the better self promoters that I've ever met. He was a great man and an even greater friend. He's going to be missed," Novak told the Sentinel.
O'Neill is survived by his six children.