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Surfing Icon and Wetsuit Pioneer Jack O’Neill Dead at 94

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Dan Coyro/The Santa Cruz Sentinel/AP

Jack O’Neill, the eye patch wearing, legendary surfing icon who pioneered the modern wetsuit, has died. He was 94.

O’Neill, who is credited with opening one of the world’s first surf shops, died at his Santa Cruz home on Friday of natural causes, his family said in a statement to the Associated Press.

He died surrounded by family in his oceanfront home, the AP reports.

The eccentric, bushy -bearded, ocean-lover sported a black eye patch after a surfing accident in 1971, according to USA Today. But more than his striking appearance, O’Neill was known for his many contributions to the world of surfing.

He and his wife moved to Ocean Beach, California, in the 1950s where O’Neill began looking for ways to surf longer in the freezing Pacific ocean. So, he created the first neoprene wetsuit, according to USA Today.

“All my friends said, ‘O’Neill, you will sell to five friends on the beach and then you will be out of business,’ O’Neill recalled, according to his family.

Although who actually invented the world’s first wetsuit has long been up for debate, it is no question that O’Neill pioneered the garment, launching a globally-known surfwear business after opening his first surf shop in Ocean Beach, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In the late ’50s, O’Neill and his family moved to Santa Cruz where he opened a second shop, the Times reports.

Of all his accomplishments, though, O’Neill was most proud of the O’Neill Sea Odyssey, a non-profit organization founded in 1996 that teaches young students about the marine habitat, the AP reports.

“The ocean is alive and we’ve got to take care of it,” O’Neill once said about the program, according to the AP. “There is no doubt in my mind that the O’Neill Sea Odyssey is the best thing I’ve ever done.”