Filed under Bay Area, Showcase

Living Proof That Opportunity is Everywhere

Iconic+Marin+landscape%2C+taken+from+Mount+Tamalpais+outlooking+the+Bay.+Image+by+Macie+Millstein.+
Iconic Marin landscape, taken from Mount Tamalpais outlooking the Bay. Image by Macie Millstein.

Iconic Marin landscape, taken from Mount Tamalpais outlooking the Bay. Image by Macie Millstein.

Iconic Marin landscape, taken from Mount Tamalpais outlooking the Bay. Image by Macie Millstein.

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In the heart of the Bay Area is a county decorated with rocky coastal lines and grassy hillsides. But to look past its picturesque façade is to discover a culture of divine individuality. Nestled in Tam Junction and located in the heart and soul of Marin County, lies Proof Lab Surf and Skate Shop, a remarkable presence to practically every walk of life in the area. Concealed from the public eye, history links and intertwines itself from Proof Lab to its surrounding humble businesses. CNL Native Plant Nursery, MV Potter Studio, Studio 4 Art, and Magic West Music School were all created within the walls of this iconic surf shop.  

A small dog sits comfortably with the used surfboards adjacent to Proof Lab’s Surf Shop.

Harnessing a multitude of interests under one name makes Proof Lab one of the most diverse consortiums in Marin County. Founded in 2004 by Will Hutchinson and Nate McCarthy, Proof Lab was never anticipated to be the home to everyone’s outdoor needs and desires. “It’s all been about the same thing – great retail, building community, and connecting people with the arts and outdoors – but that has gone in a lot of different directions depending on what we’ve gotten into and what space has become available,” Hutchinson expresses to Enjoy Mill Valley, a local online news publication, where he talked about Proof Lab and the shop turning a decade old back in 2014. No matter the person, the lifestyle, the journey, or the motivation, there is something tucked away in Mill Valley’s own surf and skate shop for every individual. From plant fertilizer to surfboard wax, Hutchinson and McCarthy created a heart and soul in the form of a business that perfectly and seamlessly encapsulates the spirit of the Golden State.

Augusta Lewis, a senior Marin Academy high school in San Rafael, has been a trusted customer of Proof Lab since she was 6 years old: “I get my wetsuits there and we’ve gotten some boards there [as well] throughout the years,” she recalls. “In Marin, it’s one of the only good surf shops.” Being a member of the surf community, Lewis finds great resources in all of the nooks and crannies of Proof Lab. Proper equipment for facing the force of tides and rip curls is incredibly significant for those choosing to engage with the waves, especially in the Bay area. Proof Lab offers a wide variety of wetsuits, surfboards (both brand new and used and lived-in), cords, fins, booties, and more; no matter the skill level, they have something for you. “Surfing has always been something that I do with my dad and that we both love. [He] taught me how to surf when I was 6 and I’ve been surfing with him ever since,” she states, clarifying the influential and memorable presence of the ocean in her upbringing. Having surf shops like Proof Lab accessible has made her devotion to the northern California coast from dwindling over the years. Lewis shares that the lifelong presence of surfing has made her even more appreciative of the legitimacy and fruit-fullness of Proof Lab’s business.

Griffin Barnett, an employee at Proof Lab, builds a new board for display.

Griffin Barnett, an employee at Proof Lab, works his magic behind the counter in the nestled nook of the shop next to the skate pipes. As I approach him, I see he’s sanding down a brand new deck (that’s what they call the wooden platforms of skateboards, I later find out) with absolute ease. “I started skating when I was 5-ish,” he says, holding a gaze with the deck, smoothing down the edges so no air bubbles are trapped under the grip tape. “I grew up 2 blocks away from where this shop first was,” he tells me, moving on to screwing in the wheels of the board. “Finally, I got my own board, and I kinda just, you know, never stopped,” Barnett says, finally looking up at me, barely showing the glimmer of passion he harbors for the art of skating in his eyes, hidden by the brim of his hat. He shares a light chuckle and states that at age 5, the driving force for him to join the skate community was the feeling of flying through the air and being ‘crazy’. When I ask him what the skate community meant to him, he responds lightheartedly with, “We could be here for a while.”

After a slight pause, and him striding across the room to grab his tools to fix the boards piled on the counter, he says:  “It’s definitely all about openness and community; if someone’s at the skatepark and they’re there talking bad about someone else, no one is going to support them,” he shares. “Everyone starts talking bad about the person talking bad because everyone’s there to be supportive.” He glances to his right and sees a crowd of young skaters who look to be around 9 years old, and a smirk breaks out on his face. He centers back and looks up at the hanging decks showering every square inch of the wall and ceiling. “As long as you’re trying and showing effort in skating, no one cares where you came from, how good or how bad you are, if it’s your first day or your last day,” he concludes. He moves back behind the counter and proceeds to teach me how to assemble a board properly. If that doesn’t encapsulate the camaraderie of skaters, I don’t know what does. 

Piper Santos, a devoted customer of Proof Lab, browses the plethora of decks next to the skate ramps of Proof Lab’s Surf Shop.

The community that skateboarders, surfers, outdoor enthusiasts, and more harbor and manifest can all be traced back to the foundation of Proof Lab. “When we started all this, we weren’t thinking about biodiesel and ceramics and music lessons and coffee. But none of it’s a surprise either. It all makes sense now and it all feels right,” Hutchinson shares with Enjoy Mill Valley. The diversity that Proof Lab contains within its ‘walls’ is the epitome of the diversity of spirit in Marin County. Every walk of life in the Bay is marching to the beat of their own drum, and Proof Lab amplifies it.

Hanging surfboards decorate the surf section of Proof Lab’s Surf & Skate shop.

The word ‘adventure’ is a noun, but at Proof Lab it is a verb. Its roots reach out to people, latch on, and instill a sense of opportunity and youth in every person that passes through. It reminds individuals that no matter the interest, there is something worth exploring, worth chasing, worth experiencing. From children to elders, it teaches that age is just a number, but the passion in your heart, for whatever it may be, is timeless.

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