O’Neill was founded by brothers Jack, Bob and Bill O’Neill who opened up a surf shop in the 1950s in San Francisco. They began selling surf vests which had been made by Jack gluing together pieces of neoprene.
Jack decided to go into the wetsuit business when these vests became popular and began experimenting with different styles of wetsuit, the names of which are now generic in the wetsuit market, for example; short john, long john, and spring suit. This was a revolutionary surf shop for its time, as the other surf shops around at that time just sold boards and wax, the O’Neill wetsuits were a breakthrough for the world of surfing.
Later, Pat O’Neill, the son of Jack, began to experiment with nylon lines, suction cups and surgical tubing, to create a board leash to prevent the board from breaking in half by crashing into the rocks and cliffs after the surfer had been wiped out (knocked off their board, usually by a large wave). While testing one of the first board leashes, company founder, Jack O’Neill, lost an eye.
At the present day, the O’Neill brand now contains a clothing line, shoes, swimsuits, board bags, and of course, wetsuits and surfboards.