Martinis at Jack O”Neill’s

In the mid-50s there was a gang of us surfers here in Santa Cruz, maybe 20-30 in number. There were no wetsuits, and UC was not yet here. Nor was SiliconValley. In the winter months, there were very few people around. Other than the water being so cold, it was paradise.

   One of my great friends from those days is Betty Van Dyke, and when I called her yesterday, she said she was going over to Jack O’Neill’s for martinis with some old surfing friends. I’ve known Jack for over 50 years, back before his wetsuit surfing empire, when he was selling firefighting equipment and I was an insurance broker — in San Francisco. Both of us bodysurfed at Kelly’s Cove. Early ’60s. When he started his surf equipment business in about 1963, I was his insurance broker (before I bailed on that world).

   So here was Jack, holding forth in his cliffside house, and we had a delightful reunion. He’s (real) hard of hearing, has only one working eye, and is 90, so it took me a while to my volume high enough so he could hear me, but I did, and sat real close and we got really rolling about the old days. It was like dragging dusty treasures out of old chests.

   Also there was Rich Novak, he of the NHS/Santa Cruz Bikes/Santa Cruz Skateboards empire — twinkle in his eye —  and with an icy martini each, six of us had an hour of rare fun. When it got time to go home, everyone said, wow!

Photo by Dave McGuire, l-r: Betty Van Dyke, Richard Novak, Jack O”Neill, moi.


About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

8 Responses to Martinis at Jack O”Neill’s

  1. Gorgeous, brother! I just spent a month working with an old colleague I hadn't seen in many years. The stories flowed almost continuously. He had a pretty thick dossier on me, it turns out, and I was amazed and delighted to hear what a rich and exciting life I have lived, at least through his eyes…me, I wasn't watching all that close in those years. I was busy going full speed ahead, man!

    Thanks, Lloyd! A chilled martini….hmmm…I was thinking bloody mary's at lunch, but a cold martini…


  2. hey Lloyd, off topic, but do you have an idea when your next book will be out? are you going to be having the miniature copies of it?


  3. Thanks for the story. My Dad Waldo Reesink, was a great friend of Jack O'Neill's. In fact my Dad said the first board Jack ever surfed on at Kelly's Cove in SF was his Velzy. My Dad made his own wetsuit custom to fit his big chest and shoulders. Our family use to go visit the O'Neills in Santa Cruz and play on the beach when we were kids. We all grew up surfing and diving for abalone!
    Susan Reesink Black

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