This past weekend I had the distinct honor and privilege of being part of the largest paddle out ceremony in history as thousands of people said aloha to Jack O’Neill. Jack was best known for inventing the wetsuit in 1952, which allowed surfers and other water enthusiasts the ability to enjoy their activities longer in any water in the world. As is the traditional way of saying goodbye to surfers who pass from this life a celebration occurred on the ocean. People of all ages took to the water on surfboards, in kayaks and outrigger canoes, in sailboats and motorboats and formed a gigantic ring a few hundred yards off the beach at Pleasure Point, right in front of Jack’s house.
My morning began by meeting a couple of friends at Capitola beach at first light for a 4-mile paddle. As I slipped on my O’Neill wetsuit the chill of the morning disappeared and the water felt more inviting. Being out on the ocean as the sun rises and the world around you begins to wake up is one of my favorite ways to start the day.
I traveled home and grabbed my kids, three surfboards and a few more wetsuits and drove to the Santa Cruz harbor. We met several friends and other guests who were invited to board the O’Neill Catamaran before it motored over to Pleasure Point for the paddle out ceremony. The fog was as thick as it gets as we left the harbor. Just moments before the celebration was to begin the fog would burn off to reveal thousands of people lining the cliffs along the shore and thousands on the water.
Although saying goodbye to friends is never easy, celebrations of life have a way of making letting go somehow better. They bring the community together. They allow stories to be shared and memories to be embraced. They give us permission to keep moving forward with our heads up and shoulders back. They enable us with the ability to give thanks and gratitude for being allowed to share in the life experience of those we come to love and admire. Thank you, Jack, for giving us all these gifts and more.