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Jack O’Neill, 1923-2017

Photo by Dave McGuire: Martinis at Jack O’Neill’s cliffside home in Santa Cruz in 2013. L-R, Betty Van Dyke, Richard Novak, Jack, Lloyd

I graduated from high school in San Francisco in 1952. I had to make up some grades in order to get admitted to Stanford, so I took some morning classes at a private high school and worked as an office boy at an insurance company in the afternoons. Each day I had a couple of hours off, so I started going to the beach.

Kelly’s Cove is the beach right next to the Cliff House at Ocean Beach, and I met a bunch of guys who were starting to bodysurf there. Cliff Kamaka, a Hawaiian who was a lifeguard at the nearby Fleishacker Pool* had taught the boys the art of bodysurfing. Charley Grimm, Rod Lundquist, John Stonum, Jim Fisher, Bill Hickey — and Jack O’Neill — were some of the gang.

The water averaged in the low ’50s, so you had to really be motivated to endure the cold. They’d build a big fire on the beach to warm up after getting out of the water, and had constructed driftwood windbreaks that you could get inside to lay in the sun.

Jack was working for a company that sold firefighting equipment. He and his wife Marge and their 6 kids lived in an apartment on Sloat Blvd., across from the zoo, a few blocks from the beach. His first attempt at staying warm was a “dry suit,” as used by divers. It was thin rubber. Jack bought one He showed it to me and he was wearing long woolen underwear underneath it. Where it might have worked for diving in calm water, it didn’t work at all in the turbulent ocean. Water would come in at the sleeves, legs, and neck.

Jack didn’t invent the wetsuit. According to Wikipedia, “Hugh Bradner, a University of California, Berkeley physicist invented the modern wetsuit in 1952…” The US Navy then developed wetsuits for their divers and the first ones were being sold in stores. The wetsuit was neoprene and allowed the water to get next to your body, but kept it warm. Before they started lining them with nylon (maybe Jack’s invention), they were difficult to get on, so we had to coat our skin with corn starch so they would slide on.

I may be the only person in the world who knows this, but one day Jack went to Roos Brothers, the big department store on Market at Powell in San Francisco, and bought a wetsuit in their sporting goods department. He took it home, took the measurements off it, and returned it the next day. Voilá, he had the pattern for his first wetsuit. I know this because I stopped by to see him the day he brought it home. Like Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile, but perfected it and made it available to millions, so it was with Jack and wetsuits.

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Total Solar Eclipses, 2017 and 1991

It’s happening on August 21st. I’m heading up to Oregon, with stop-offs at Stewart Mineral Springs near Lake Shasta (also, looking forward to seeing Shasta full for the 1st time in years), then to see legendary bodybuilder and good friend Bill Pearl and his wife Judy in Medford/Ashland area, then to Umpqua hot springs, then somewhere in totality zone for the big event.

Here’s link to where it will be visible in the US:

https://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/total-eclipse-of-sun-august-21-2017

I witnessed a total eclipse in Baja in July, 1991, and it was (sorry for the hackneyed phrase, but…) awesome. Never to be forgotten.

My friend Chilón alerted me to it a year before, and I reserved a hotel room in San José del Cabo ($25 pr night). The morning of the eclipse I got up at 6AM, caught the 1st bus into Cabo San Lucas, rented a Honda motorcycle, and drove up the Pacific side towards Todos Santos, took a dirt road out to Playa Margarita, which turned out to be a spectacular miles-long sandy beach. As it was early, I went bodysurfing; there was abundant fool’s gold on the sand and as I swam (no goggles, but water was clear), flecks of gold swirled around me. What a planet!

It turned out there were 6 other people on the beach:

From left: two hair dressers from Denver, Craig and Frank; and 4 young Mexicans from Monterrey: Enrique (in foreground), Marta, Arturo and Juan. Craig and Frank had weed, the kids had a bottle of tequila, and it coalesced into a party.

The boys had eclipse glasses so we took turns watching the moon gradually blot out the sun. The sky turned blue-dark and everything was bathed in a light I’d never seen before. Incrediblé!

We finished the bottle, and then, after 2-3 hours together, our eclipse family took off in different directions, never to see each other again. I swam some more, then returned the motorcycle, went back to San José and had dinner at Le Baguette, a lovely French restaurant in this desert town. I’d call that a perfect day.

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