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  How MUD\WTR Founder Shane Heath's Santa Cruz Upbringing Shaped the Company
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How MUD\WTR Founder Shane Heath's Santa Cruz Upbringing Shaped the Company

From Batman capes to business success

Rae Repanshek

At age four Shane Heath wouldn’t leave the house without his Batman cape. In fourth grade, he played Captain Hook in his school’s production of Peter Pan, opposite his friend Matt who played the lead and who Shane’s still friends with to this day, showing up as the best man in Matt’s wedding. In fifth grade, a teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, and he said an “artist.” And by age 29 he had become founder and CEO of MUD\WTR

Shane was born on July 8 in Santa Cruz, California, a city famed for its surf and laid-back lifestyle, the same city where his parents were born. He remembers a big, fluffy white dog and playing army. He loved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and playing NBA Jam with his friend Julius. He also remembers his dad taking him and his younger sister Kylie to jiu-jitsu classes and surfing with his friends. 

Constructing A Foundation

But some of his most formative memories are of watching his dad build houses. To say Shane looked up to his dad may be an understatement. “He’s like a fucking superhero to me,” Shane says. He worked in construction, so he was always building something new or remodeling some part of the house. 

"My dad built all the homes I grew up in,” Shane says. "I think subconsciously, it led me to want to learn how to bring ideas into reality. It also taught me a lot about hard work.”

Instead of leaning into the uncertainty or discomfort of living in a “work-in-progress” home, Shane saw this as a metaphor—his environment represented constant change and limitless possibility. He would smell sawdust and look at the blueprints in his dad’s office and think of them as symbols of potential—the tangible results of creative effort coming to life.

Learning the Creative Process

This instilled in Shane a deep appreciation for the process of creating and building, similar to how he would develop, grow and work to constantly improve MUD\WTR later in his life.

“I love looking at architectural drawings so much. I feel like it's like a calling when I look at them, like I can just walk through the plans visually and really feel the space,” Shane says. “Because three of the homes that I lived in for probably 20 years of my life were homes that my pops built, I saw the plans and smelled the sawdust and saw the wood and watched it come together. And then I was sleeping in them. So that’s a huge, formative part of my life that shaped how I look at the creative process.” 

And this still drives Shane’s work today. He enjoys working through the creative process—seeing projects through from start to finish. And because he spent so much time as a kid pouring over his dad’s blueprints, he’s able to visualize the end result before it ever even starts to come to life.

Embracing Leadership 

Being the oldest child, Shane unwittingly assumed a leadership role from a young age, directing and organizing activities among his younger relatives. This early responsibility was a training ground for his future role as a CEO, where he now leads with a mix of intuition and learned experiences.

"I was the oldest child and the oldest cousin of many,” Shane says. "That naturally put me in this position of responsibility. I think that definitely played into my role now, being a CEO, running a company."​

But he wasn’t always called to leadership in the traditional sense. He was shy, introverted and felt more comfortable creating in solitude. Part of it was a fear of failure, but part of it was knowing that he didn’t want to invest himself in something if he couldn’t be the best at it.

“I was always building things,” Shane says. “Whenever we were at my grandparents’ house I would just start building a fort. I was also usually the oldest cousin there, and it was just like all my cousins and my sister were like my little employees and I would be like, ‘Hey, we need this size blanket and a pillow.’ And kind of give them directions.”

Witnessing a Transformation

Though his parents are Christian, Shane didn’t grow up in an overly religious household. He was left to explore and discover his own spirituality. But Shane's dad once again left a significant mark on him, showing him that change is possible. 

"My dad was kind of a  ‘bad boy’ turned born-again Christian,” Shane says. “Hearing how my dad changed his life—I saw someone transform their life based on belief.” 

Witnessing his dad undergo profound personal change also led him to understand the importance of personal beliefs and how significant they can be in shaping someone’s life. He learned that transformation is a superpower. Now, he works to share healthy habits that people can use to transform their own lives. It’s why MUD\WTR encourages people to question their long-held beliefs and consider how daily habits or rituals shape who they are. 

Communicating With Ease

But Shane’s childhood wasn’t always easy or even fair. Early on, Shane experienced pivotal moments of misunderstanding and misjudgment, from being wrongly accused to feeling unable to express himself adequately. 

"There were moments in my life where I was completely misunderstood—I wasn't able to articulate what I was actually feeling,” Shane says. “That made me realize the importance of communication and being able to express myself clearly. I've had to learn how to communicate better ... It's something that I think has really helped me in my role today."​​

And to avoid being misunderstood, Shane intentionally sought out ways to express himself safely. He discovered writing—there was less room for misunderstanding if his words were clearly laid out. Then, later in life, Shane brought those skills to MUD\WTR, not only in his leadership style but also in the company’s branding and transparent and authentic communication style.

Expressing Through Art

In his youth, Shane and his friends were always picking up new hobbies. They would get into something new, like surfing, but then it would become somewhat competitive. 

“But I didn't want to compete with things that other people were good at, or that I didn't want to compete in,” Shane says. 

He wanted to pave his own path through life, so he took up hobbies that his friends weren’t interested in, like playing guitar or, ultimately, creating art. Sometimes, after school, he would spend time at his friend Matt’s house watching his mom paint, and this not only sparked his interest in art but also provided an outlet for self-expression distinct from the competitive environments of sports or surfing. 

"Matt’s mom was an artist, and I remember going into their house and watching her paint and just being like, 'This is amazing,’” Shane says. “It was really inspiring to see someone live that way. It was different from sports and different from other things I was into. That definitely sparked something in me. That was really where I started to dive into art and creativity."

This early exposure to art fueled the creative and aesthetic aspects of MUD\WTR, from product development to branding.

Expanding Into the Possibilities

Shane’s mom was a computer science major, and she influenced his interest in computers at a young age. But once his parents saw his inclination toward creativity, they encouraged him to attend a graphic design class at a community college while Shane was in high school and he felt a true calling.

That’s ultimately what drove Shane to major in design and pursue a career as a fine artist. What happened after that, as they say, is history. ​​As for the future of MUD\WTR, the possibilities are endless. 

“I really don't like when things are set. I just want a little bit more uncertainty—I like uncertainty,” Shane says. “I don't like to know what’s going to happen. I don't like somebody telling me, ‘This is the ceiling. This is the limit of what's possible.’ I like wondering what it’s going to turn into.”

Rae Repanshek is MUD\WTR's talented copywriter.

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