A conversation with Simon Schuetz, creator of Awesome Maps
In this Digital Age of tech and ease, where with apps and search engines it’s pretty impossible to get lost anymore—there’s still something very magical about a physical map. The world seems bigger on a map, more fascinating. There is an urge to reach out and touch a place, to scan a finger over a coastline—and dream. Indeed, while it’s increasingly harder to find anything “undiscovered” out there…you can still totally get lost in a map. Simon Schuetz, a surfer and creator of the wonderful map brand Awesome Maps understood this phenomenon fully. But he had even bigger dreams for these beloved relics that could continually be made new again. One of Thermal’s collaborators in travel, we caught up with Simon to get a deeper look into his [hand-drawn] world…
So Simon, what originally sparked this passion for maps?
Simon: Well, my dad is afraid of flying, so we could only go on vacations very close to our landlocked home in Düsseldorf, Germany. My grandparents were, like, 70 at the time, and went on RV trips around Europe and Australia (total bosses doing that in their 70s when the world of travelling was much more daunting than today) so somewhere around that time, there must have been a travel bug implanted in me. So, I got books about wild animals and places with volcanos, and finally, a globe so I could see where all of these places where located that I only knew of from books but wanted to see with my own eyes.
Makes sense. Love that origin story. Was there a particularly memorable surf trip you had in your life that inspired your work?
Yeah, I went on a surf trip in 2008 to Southern France and Northern Spain (such an underrated place by the way). And when I came back, I simply wanted to pin all of the amazing places I had surfed. So I did. But…it looked so boring because the map was less than 0.1% pinned. I thought there must be a cooler map. There wasn't, so I made it (with a lot of help, of course).
It seems like travel has a way of inspiring creative people or reinvigorating them, if not providing direction….do you agree?
If you never tasted anything but a lemon it would be the sweetest thing you know. I love that thought. So, traveling and new experiences help you put the things you know into perspective. And I think it also helps you appreciate what you have. And then the other thing I learned from my travels is that we are all the same. It sounds so cliché, it really does, but to spend time with a family from Peru or Indonesia and to really be welcomed by them and understand what they worry about and what makes them happy—there is something really profound in something so seemingly simple. So, this combined, I feel like it really helps you to see things a lot more clearly and therefore gives you direction.
Well said Simon. So, of course there’s iPhones, but what is it about a big physical map that’s so satisfying?
I feel like looking at the world and discovering places you would have never considered for surfing for example is amazing. I live in Europe and just the other day I looked at the Surftrip Map and where I could go next. Turns out Ghana is so close and has so many great waves. And they get swell when it's flat in Europe—so it's perfect! I love looking at the map and not being distracted by anything else—to just look, and dream, and make new plans.
We love your art aesthetic….what do you love most about that hand drawn feel of Awesome Maps?
What do I love most? That an artist took hundreds of hours to create a piece of art with so many Easter eggs and so many intricate details. I still discover new things every time I look at the map, despite having been involved in the process of making it from start to finish. There is something about all the work and love that goes into making the maps that you subconsciously notice that is just unique.
What have been some of your most favourite maps you produced?
I really love every map we make because it opens up a whole new world. One region in the world could be amazing for surfing, while a completely different one is great for paragliding. So, every map we make sparks a new fascination for a sport and different places in the world. But, of course, the Surftrip Map is the first map we made and is about the sport I love most. It will always have a special place in my heart.
Nice. Any places/themes you’re working on now or have always wanted to work on?
It just never ends really. I love riding my motorbike so bike trips around the world near and far would be something I would love to sink my teeth into.
So, to close, what makes a truly “awesome” map?
Any map that makes you wonder what's out there and sparks your imagination.