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Before SDA Creative was born, Mark Samuels was the Advertising Art Directer for SURFER Magazine for 15 years.

This article on how he was hired for the job was originally written in 2014 by Corky Carroll for the OC Register.


Graphic Designer Recounts How a ‘Cub’ Got His Start

Mark Samuels is a world-class graphic designer, an excellent surfer, tennis player, family dude and a great pal of mine. I have been meaning to write about him for some time and am finally getting around to it. He is the owner of SDA Creative, with beach-front offices in Capistrano Beach at that. His companies most recent project was art directing the new Hobie Alter book.

I had a little bit to do with his entry into the surfing industry when I worked as ad director at Surfer magazine and he interviewed for a graphic artist position. He was all young and fresh and wet behind the ears and reminded me of Cubby from the old “Mickey Mouse Club” TV show. Naturally, he immediately became “Cubby,” or “Cub” for short.

I told him I wanted to do a story on him and asked him to send me some info on what he was up to and his career. He emailed me the following story. As he tells this better than me, here it is in his own words.

Being a die-hard surfer and a young graphic designer, I jumped at the chance to apply when I learned that Surfer magazine was looking for an artist to run their advertising art department. My contact told me, “You just have to convince Corky that you know what you’re doing.” And so the die was cast; I met with Corky in the Surfer offices in San Juan Capistrano. It was the spring of 1980, I was 24 years old.

When I showed up for the interview, Corky had just returned from a surf session and it dawned on me that this could be a very cool job. It’s hard to explain, but there was something very genuine about Corky and I liked him right off the bat. After going through the samples of my artwork, he said he dug my style and I’d be a great fit at Surfer…that is, if I could actually surf. He explained that surfing with the advertisers is a big part of the job. He told me to come back in with my board…for the second half of the interview.

Mark Samuels, mugging for a Surfer Magazine subscription advertisement.

I was feeling confident but nervous as we headed to Cotton’s Point with Surfer’s editor Jim Kempton along for the ride. The surf gods were smiling on me that day, Cotton’s was head high and firing. My nerves generated some serious adrenaline as I paddled out to the point in record time, spun around on the set of the day and rode that first wave all the way to the beach. Corky was already outside, but as I paddled back out with Kempton, he just grinned at me and said, “you got the job, dude.”

That day was the start of my 15 years at Surfer magazine, and man was it a sweet ride. Corky laid down just a few simple rules: we have no formal job hours…just get your stuff done, and always have your board in your office and be ready to surf at a moment’s notice. That sounded good to me, and the Surfer ad department flourished under Corky’s leadership.

Surfer Mag crew late eighties, clockwise from top left: Mary, Meredith Bradbury, Tom Servais, Jeff Divine, Debbie Pezman, Steve Pezman, Denise Bashem, Buddy Purel, Mark Samuels, Paul Holmes, Jeff Girard, and Matt Warshaw. Illustration by Phil Roberts.

One of my first duties was going with Corky to take Nancy Katin to lunch and sell her ad pages. It was a simple formula, just take Nancy (who was in her 80s) next door to Sam’s Seafood, buy a couple glasses of wine and chitchat for a while. She would sign on the dotted line every time.

I quickly became friends and surfing buddies with Jeff Divine, Tom Servais, Paul Holmes, Corky and the rest of the staff, and we remain friends to this day. Surfer also sent me to Hawaii many times over the years to interview the pros and surf with our advertisers.

Working at Surfer also gave you some clout on the beach. One day at Velzyland, a couple of locals told me to get off the beach. I just let them know I was with Jeff Divine from Surfer, and all of a sudden they were asking me if I wanted to borrow their board and date their sister. Power of the press for sure.

Mark Samuels and Tom Servais, surfing for SURFER!

Nobody in the surfing industry had ad agencies or in-house art departments back then, so I ended up designing for just about every surf-related company there was. Designing for Quiksilver was probably my favorite, and I knocked out their ads for almost 7 straight years. Lighting Bolt, Rip Curl, O’Neill, OP and many more were all advertising with Surfer and I was the go-to ad designer.

Corky sold ‘em, and I designed ‘em. I watched many guys with start-up companies become millionaires very quickly; it was definitely a good time to be in the surf business. We truly did ride that wave.

Note: Mark already had the job before we went surfing. I was just having some fun with him.

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