The original site of Jack O’Neill’s first surf shop in Santa Cruz, Calif., has taken its place among the Golden State’s important pieces of history. Last week, the nine-member State Historical Resources Commission — tasked with identifying and preserving the state’s cultural heritage — unanimously designated the spot as a California Point of Historical Interest.
“What started out as a way to catch as many waves as possible has turned into a life I could not have even dreamed up,” O’Neill said. “I am grateful to all of you who have supported us along the way from our roots through 60 years.”
Opened in 1959, the 500-square-foot O’Neill Surf Shop stood near Cowell Beach, and it served as a landmark for Northern California surfers looking to pick up an advanced version of O’Neill’s earlier experiments with neoprene wetsuits.
Right around 1960, according to Matt Warshaw’s “The History of Surfing,” O’Neill had added “a front-zip jacket and long john to his neoprene vests, and was now making appearances at the local boat expo, where his favorite promo stunt was to fill a tank with water and have his three wetsuit-clad preadolescent children play on a huge block of ice.”
O’Neill was the first to create and market neoprene wetsuits for surfers to extend their surf sessions in the icy waters off Santa Cruz and in the process changed the sport of surfing, according to the resources commission’s literature.
Operating three retail stores in Santa Cruz with affiliates worldwide, O’Neill is now one of the biggest wetsuit brands in the world. In 1996, the family founded the nonprofit O’Neill Sea Odyssey educational program for ocean sciences.
In the coming months, Santa Cruz city officials will install historic signage at the site, which is less than a mile from famed Steamer Lane, home of the O’Neill Coldwater Classic and the ninth event on this season’s ASP World Championship Tour.
Heading up the effort to secure the historical designation, Santa Cruz City Councilmember David Terrazas said, “The O’Neill story is uniquely Santa Cruz and representative of California’s innovative spirit and culture throughout the world. Jack and his family are integral to our town and have built something really special here.”