Friday, May 30, 2008

Surf Fridays!

Jack, Pat, and Mike O'Neill demonstrating the Supersuit, 1970s
Aug. 2007 ed. of San Francisco magazine

Our landlord sent us this cool article about the O'Neills, the local Santa Cruz family who helped shape cold water surfing with their invention and perfection of the wetsuit. But did you know his son also invented the leash? It's their company motto that makes me grin. Read on...

Back in the 1950's, the frigid waters of the northern Pacific kept "Nor Cal" surfing in the hands of just a few ardent enthusiasts. Swimmers were constantly devising schemes that would allow them to stay in for more than a few minutes. One man coated his U.S. Navy jumpsuit in Thompson's Water Seal, which created an oil slick behind him each time he paddled out to the break. But perhaps no one had as big an impact on the scene as Jack O'Neill, who in 1952 opened the Surf Shop at 3518 Wawona Street, near his favorite bodysurfing break. He's pictured here with his two sons, Pat and Mike, in the Supersuit.

A technical innovator in the best Bay Area tradition, O'Neill would ransack army and navy surplus stores for WWII frogman suits. One of his first contraptions consisted of pieces of unicellular plastic under bathing suits. After he incorporated neoprene, a successful wetsuit business followed. "It's always summer on the inside," he'd say as surfers flocked to buy his warmth-retaining suits.

O'Neill closed the San Francisco store in 1959 and moved his company to Santa Cruz, but he and his progeny kept on innovating. His son Pat invented the surf leash, which keeps the surfboard attached to its rider in a wipeout. Other O'Neill ideas included surf booties and board bags, which protect the boards from rough luggage handlers as surfers roam the world in pursuit of the endless summer. The Supersuit in this photograph, taken in the mid 1970s at the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor, was inflatable, so the wearer could bob in the ocean for as long as 24 hours. "Just lay your head back and go to sleep," O'Neill says. (The company still makes a version for Navy SEALs.) A recent invention is the Animal Suit, which was modeled after armadillo skin and designed for extreme surfing conditions.

O'Neill is 84 and still serves as the chairman of his company, but he also finds time to bodysurf. O'Neill, Inc., remains based in Santa Cruz and employs 500 people worldwide who are apt to hit the water when the swells begin to roll. "We have a saying at the company: as long as you get your work done, surf," says Pat, who at 54 is now O'Neill's president and CEO.

back of the photo reads:
Jamie - Surf Diva, June 2001
Tourmaline Beach, San Diego

This is me in my first wetsuit, which no longer fits by the way (I'm saving it for you Mo). I was so happy because I had driven all the way to San Diego to visit my Grandma and attend Surf Diva school in La Jolla. No snickering, guys! It was one of the happiest weekends of my life. My Surf Diva teacher taught me two very important things that I'll never forget. (1) The best surfer out there is the one having the most fun and (2) Think of the Beastie Boys' lyrics, "Slow and low that is the tempo". She meant that when you stand up, keep it low and easy. Don't be standing up straight, wobbling and sticking your behind out.

So the following day, I had made plans to meet a friend at their home in San Diego, and she and her husband Peter and their Vizsla dog Henry, took me to Tourmaline beach where Peter and I surfed. Dana took this photo of me when I got out of the water and mailed it to me soon after.

Do you guys want to know a little secret? The friend was one of the sweetest dynamo women I've yet to meet. Her full name is Dana Perino, the current White House Press Secretary. I met her when I worked at a VC firm, Sevin Rosen Funds. She was part of the PR team and I just loved her. We haven't keep in touch however, and finding out about her new job was a wonderful surprise. She really went places didn't she?! Good job, Dana. My hat's off to you.


Clare said...

What a great post Jamie. I loved reading every word of it.

Ryan said...

Ya, good one. Surf Fridays should be every day. :P Have a good weekend.

sulu-design said...

As long as you get your work done... nice.

Mrs.French said...

I love this story...You can tell you were having the time of your life. Your smile says it all.

Jessica said...

I adore this photo of you.
It makes me feel happiness.


LINDSAY said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog and saying such nice things about my art! I enjoyed reading about your creative process as an artist AND your a surfer!!! Geez, how cool is that :)