Sempervirens Fund Connection: The Invention of the Wetsuit

Harry Hind (1915-2012)


Harry Hind (1915-2012) was a San Francisco pharmacist, inventor and bodysurfer. According to an obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle, he “just had a way of looking at something and seeing how it could be improved. No problem could not be solved, said his friends and family members.”

Hind’s numerous inventions included contact lens solution, a patch to treat shingles pain and the template for today’s pH meter, used for testing liquids for acidity and alkalinity. He also contributed to the development of one of the first tuberculosis drugs.

Hind’s contribution to the world of cold water surfing arose from his friendship with Jack O’Neill (1923-2017), the legendary founder of the eponymous surf wear and equipment brand. Before the wetsuit, surfing in Northern California was a frigid affair. O’Neill was working on a suit that would help surfers retain their body heat while catching waves in the 50-degree waters around San Francisco. Prototypes of his invention were made from PVC foam and plastic. They did not work.

Hind was a devoted bodysurfer. In those days, he and O’Neill would regularly surf the north end of Ocean Beach together. After watching his friend try and fail to invent a workable wetsuit prototype with a number of different materials, Hind suggested a synthetic rubber called neoprene. Voila, the modern wetsuit was born.

In the late 1960s, Hind began working with Sempervirens Fund, joining a group of contemporary luminaries and innovators that included Ansel Adams, David Packard, Dorothy Varian and Geza Gyorey – to name just a few, With their help, Sempervirens Fund helped establish Castle Rock State Park and the Skyline-to-Sea Trail through Big Basin, among many other important projects.

Before he died in June 2017, O’Neill, frequently credited Hind with the suggestion and considered the man his best friend. Together, the old friends established numerous other good works, including the O’Neill Sea Odyssey Program.

“He was a very creative guy, very intelligent and a very great guy to surf with,” said O’Neill.

For more about the remarkable men and women of Sempervirens Fund, click here.