The Most Influential Gear of All Time: Neoprene Wetsuit

1952

An early wetsuit

An early wetsuit     Photo: Courtesy of O'Neill

Ask who invented the modern wetsuit, and you’re opening up a can of worms. Jack O’Neill, a skylight salesman, wanted to surf longer in the chilly waves off the Northern California coast. He tried insulating his shorts with flexible plastic foam with some success. Then, a bodysurfing friend from a pharmaceutical lab introduced him to Neoprene. O'Neill quickly ordered as much as he could get and began hand sewing it into a protective full-body suit. He opened San Francisco's first surf shop in 1952, selling what he claims were the world’s first wetsuits. However, University of California at Berkley physicist Hugh Bradner wrote letters as early as 1951 discussing his invention of a neoprene body suit, though his patent application was never granted.

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