Known for his signature eye patch, O’Neill invented wetsuits that allowed surfers to navigate northern and central California’s cold-water waves year-round.
"It's a sad day for surfing," Mavericks big wave surfer Ken "Skindog" Collins told KSBW on Friday.
In 1955, O’Neill set up a small surf shop at Ocean Beach in San Francisco and sold his revolutionary wetsuit there. He moved to Santa Cruz in 1959 and set up another shop at Cowell Beach.
"Guys were using sweaters from the Goodwill. 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," O'Neill said in a 1999 interview.
O'Neill's early wetsuits were eyed with skepticism, but he continued experimenting with neoprene, a material that is still used today.
His iconic pirate-like black eye patch was the result of a surfing accident when he fell while riding a wave at the Hook, KSBW reported.