Friday, March 5, 2010

Jack O'Neill a Commonwealth Club Distinguished Citizen

The Commonwealth Club of California will honor Jack O'Neill, founder and chairman of the board of O’Neill Wetsuits in April, for revolutionizing California’s iconic surfing industry with his invention of the wetsuit in the 1950s.

He will receive The Commonwealth Club's Distinguished Citizen Award at the Club’s 22nd Annual Distinguished Citizen Award Dinner, which will take place April 29, 2010, at The Palace Hotel in San Francisco.

In pursuit of a way to lengthen surfing sessions, O’Neill began experimenting with flexible plastic foam in the 1950s, an endeavor that ultimately led to the innovative idea of fashioning surfing vests from neoprene foam. O’Neill sold his first crude vests and balsa wood surfboards out of San Francisco’s original Surf Shop until relocating his operations in 1959 to Santa Cruz. In the 1960s, O’Neill began coating neoprene with an elastic, nylon fabric, a procedure that would increase wetsuit durability and comfort. In the wake of this breakthrough, O’Neill Wetsuits would expand greatly, emerging in the 1980s as an international presence.

Today O’Neill spends much of his time on philanthropic projects that seek to foster educational achievement and environmental stewardship in California’s schoolchildren. In 1996, O’Neill founded the O’Neill Sea Odyssey, a unique educational program for 4th-6th graders that, utilizing the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary as a classroom, instills in young minds urgent lessons about our endangered oceans. In 2005, the program received the California Governor’s Award in Economic and Environmental Leadership, as well as U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer’s Conservation Champion award. O’Neill himself has received numerous accolades from the surfing industry that he helped to establish, including having been named “Waterman of the Year” in 2000 by the Surfing Industry Manufacturers Association.

Also being honored at the annual celebration are the Honorable George P. Shultz, former U.S. secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan, and his wife, California and San Francisco Chief of Protocol Charlotte Mailliard Shultz; Pixar Animation Studios' writer and director Brad Bird; and Dr. Bill Rutter, chairman and CEO of Synergenics. As leaders and innovators, these distinguished citizens embody “The Spirit of California” in creative, technological, civic, entrepreneurial, environmental, and, increasingly, global contexts.

Visit our web site for more information on The Commonwealth Club's 107th Anniversary and 22nd Annual Distinguished Citizen Award Dinner.


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