A first stab at a definition of surface area might go like this:
Let S be a surface. Select finitely many points from S and make a bunch of triangles having these points as vertexes. Add up the areas of all of the triangles. This is a finite approximation to the surface area. Now to get the actual surface area, we increase the number of points so that they "densely cover" the surface (Maybe a good working definition would be that any open set of S should eventually contain some vertexes of triangles).
I seem to remember reading about a counterexample to this naive definition, but I can't find a reference. I believe there is even a natural looking polygonal approximation to the cylinder whose surface area diverges to infinity. Can anyone help me out?