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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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Art of Godfrey Stephens

Check out Godfrey Stephens’ hashtags: https://abphy.com/hashtag/godfreystephens

I’m hanging out today in Victoria, BC, with my good friend Godfrey (we met on the beach in Yelapa, near Puerto Vallarts in 1964). He is in my mind one of the major artists in the world, but somehow relatively undiscovered. He’s a whirlwind of creative energy. More to follow. See writeup on him and his carvings and paintings in Builders of the Pacific Coast.

I’m at the start of a 3-week trip publicizing Small Homes: The Right Size. I’ll be in BC for 10 days, then on to Winnipeg, Toronto, then NYC.

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First-hand Account of Global Warming in South Seas

My longtime good friend Sam Rehnborg and his wife Francesca took off this summer on their 70-foot sailboat for the South Seas, retracing a voyage they made over 30 years ago. They got some rude shocks from the effects of global warming, as he explained in an e-mail to me last week:

“Bottom line for me is that it was a great experience retracing my steps through this part of the world.  It only reinforces what I sort of knew anyway about the ocean temperature, which has been averaging up here about 88 degrees F.  The fish have disappeared.  The corals are bleaching and dying.


 The water is getting acidified.  The local people are doing the best that they can, but there is not much they can do about some of these big, big changes that are taking place.  The efforts are going to have to take place on a much larger scale.”

The photo shows him sailing out from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco this July, heading for The Marquesas Islands. His blog on the trip: https://drsamsblog.com/

Sam has a Ph.D. in Biophysics and a B.Sc. in Chemical Engineering and is the president of the Nutrilite Health Institute, makers of vitamins and dietary supplements. He just got back and is motivated to do research on global warming.

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Windy Day Windsurfing

On my way north up the coast from Santa Cruz a few weeks ago, a full house of windsurfers at Waddell Creek. This would look best as a 3-4′ mural. One of the many limitations of electronic as compared to the real thing. Sigh. Some day I’ll do an exhibit of panoramas, grande size. I have tons…

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Saturday Bike Ride/Tiny Home On Move Progress

A few pics from yesterday. Photogenic redwood by roadside. A little farther up the road, I saw a bunch of what looked like green leaves under a pine tree. Getting closer, they were wings (believe that’s the right word) of a pine cone, and lo, they were sailing down from the tree. Aha!  Stopped under the tree, looked up and here was a bushy grey squirrel at work, getting pine nuts and jettisoning the wings.

   I’ve been admiring this beautiful field of artichokes for a while. Creek bottom soil.

Feels so good to be mobile again.

Our new book Tiny Homes On the Move is popping right now. It’s about 80% together. Lots of great last-minute material. I love watching it come together. Like sailing in unknown waters. We never know what form it will take until the parts are all assembled. Exciting to see a book getting born.

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