Back when I was a kid, I was lucky enough to learn how to surf from Richard Schmidt, a legendary big-wave surfer, and one of the first two or three people to surf the infamous breaks at Mavericks.
We’d paddle out, ride waves until my lips turned blue in the freezing Santa Cruz water, then come back in to bullshit with the local surfers and rising pros who knew Richard. Often, there was a familiar-looking homeless guy there named Jack, a tremendously friendly guy with a scruffy beard, layered sweaters, and an eyepatch:
One day, as we headed back to Richard’s van, Jack walked along with us.
“It’s great seeing you as always,” said Jack, once we reached the van. And then he opened the door of a $200,000 1950’s Jaguar XK 140 parked next to the van, hopped in, and drove off.
It was then that I realized why Jack looked so familiar. I saw his face every time I put on my wetsuit:
Jack O’Neill, inventor of the wetsuit, passed away this Friday at the age of 94. He was a fixture of the Santa Cruz surf scene, a tremendously nice guy, and a brilliant businessman.
I wear O’Neill wetsuits to this day, and I silently give him thanks each time I’m out in the water, my lips still turning blue, but not nearly as quickly as they otherwise would.
RIP, Jack. You’ll be missed.