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Santa Cruz seeking mementos of Jack O'Neill's 1959 surf shop

July 11, 2012|By Mary Forgione | Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger
  • Jack O'Neill's surf gear empire grew from this 1959 surf shop in Santa Cruz. His sons, Pat and Mike, are shown on skateboard at right.
Jack O'Neill's surf gear empire grew from this 1959 surf shop… (Santa Cruz County CVC/O'Neill…)

There's no there there -- yet.

Wetsuit pioneer Jack O'Neill's 1959 Surf Shop was the startup of its day. The 500-square-foot spot adjacent to Cowell Beach in Santa Cruz, where he once sold "thermal barrier" suits, was declared a California Point of Historical Interest last month. The building no longer stands and, so far, the space remains a memory.

Santa Cruz city leaders are asking folks for photos and information to be included in an "interpretive signage project" to mark this bit of surf history in the Central California town. (Send info to

"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 in a statement. O'Neil stilll lives in Santa Cruz and marks 60 years in the business. (He started a shop in 1952 in San Francisco). 

Nomination papers for the historical nod are filled with interesting surf tidbits such as the fact that three brothers, nephews of Hawaii's Queen Kapiolani, showed off their board skills by riding the waves of Main Beach on July 20, 1885.

By 1896, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported boys at the beach using a "surf-board to ride the breakers, like the Hawaiians." In the end, the wave culture stuck -- and O'Neill rode his own wave of neoprene glory to worldwide fame.

How do you capture all that in a historical marker? I'll be eager to see.

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