‘Seapoodles’: Local surfer publishes first book of whimsical ocean creatures

Buoyed by those around him, Shaun Donovan is riding his creativity into authorship.

The former La Jolla resident, who recently moved to Pacific Beach, has written, illustrated and self-published his first book, “Seapoodles,” a collection of drawings and poems inspired by his community.

“Seapoodles,” published in May, contains 50 marine creatures doodled by Donovan over the past eight to 12 months.

Each creature comes with a poem intended to teach children about the creature and encourage ocean conservation.

The book begins with Bob the poodle (based on Donovan’s own dog, a sharpei-boxer mix also named Bob) noticing a lot of beach trash and dreaming of a “seapoodle” — a dolphin with curly hair.

Bob learns about other sea creatures — each with poodle-like hair — and how to help clean the beach. He passes along the information to readers with poems like “anemones are the flower of the seas/using their stingers to get what they please.”

Donovan, a member of the Windansea Surf Club, said he grew up surfing and competed in the sport since he was a young teenager.

Donovan and his father would drive to the best waves daily from their Rancho Bernardo home, he said. Both his parents “would always be really hard on me about picking up trash” at the beach, he said.

Shaun Donovan received help from girlfriend Gayla Berkefelt for his book and got inspiration from his dog, Bob.

Shaun Donovan received help from girlfriend Gayla Berkefelt for his book and got inspiration from his dog, Bob.

(Courtesy of Shaun Donovan)

That served as the impetus for the theme of Donovan’s book, as illustrated by one of the final pages: “Surfers have a radical thing they say/‘Leave the beach better than you found it that day!’”

The book originated from Donovan’s drawings for his friends. Living in La Jolla during much of the COVID-19 pandemic, Donovan befriended Windansea neighbors Cliff Brinser, Matt Donoghue, Mikko Fleming, Jake Luther and Ryan Miller, who formed a band.

They named the band Seapoodle, a nickname for Fleming, who wraps a shirt around his head after surf sessions, with the sleeves “flopping like ears,” Donovan said.

The band asked Donovan, who also creates artworks based on commissions, to come up with Seapoodle’s mascot.

Donovan, who said he likes “drawing trippy, funny-looking characters,” doodled a dolphin with poodle hair.

“I always knew Shaun did really amazing art; he’s so talented,” Donoghue said. “He manifested this [seapoodle] out of his head. It’s so whimsical.”

The seapoodle became the band’s emblem, printed on posters and merchandise and promoted when the band plays at spots such as Beaumont’s or Nautilus Tavern in La Jolla.

Donovan then created sea creature doodles for everyone in the band.

Donaghue, who is tall, became a walrus; Miller, the drummer, morphed into an octopus; Luther, with his penchant for fitness, became a hammerhead; and Brinser, “a mellow, chill person,” became a turtle, Donovan said.

Donovan then developed landscapes and a world for the characters to live in, adding them to band posters, Donoghue said.

“There’s such a hilarity and humility to the characters,” Donaghue said. “They look all inviting, and the color palette is sensational.”

Donovan turned the creature doodles into a book with the support and help of his girlfriend, fellow Windansea Surf Club member Gayla Berkefelt, and friends and family members.

The book swelled to include 50 creatures with the poems Donovan said are inspired by the work of Dr. Seuss — the late Theodor Geisel, who lived in La Jolla.

He taught himself how to transition the drawings and rhymes to book format using graphic design, and he watched YouTube videos to learn the process for self-publishing.

Donaghue said the “Seapoodles” book is “remarkable, witty and clever. I think it’s going to do really well.”

“Seapoodles” is available at Mitch’s Surf Shop at 631 Pearl St., La Jolla, or through Amazon at amzn.to/3aWS55g.

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