GPS SUP Art with Thomas Schilig

GPS Art is a big thing in the cycling and running world, using a GPS device to track a route as the runner or cyclist traced out a design on the ground, when uploaded via a tracking app the picture is there on screen. If you’ve not seen this before then there are some very dedicated and enthusiastic athletes making pictures out there. But until recently no one has taken on the challenge of drawing with GPS on water, no one except Thomas Schillig. Chris from TotalSUP wanted to find out more.

Thomas Schillig – SUP paddler and GPS artist

Hi Thomas, welcome to TotalSUP. I saw your GPS rabbit on SUP My Race and had to find out more, tell us how you started to make big artwork on the water.

Hi Chris, I first had the idea about two years ago and thought I would try to paddle an Easter rabbit. I had a tablet with a tracking App with me and tried to paddle without any saved route. The end result… well it looked like a Picasso but it was still recognisable as a rabbit.

This year the idea came back to me and I decided to paddle to a given track, following a route not drawing ‘freehand’. The complicated thing was drawing or importing a track on the computer, it should be possible to convert a vectorised drawing into a track but I couldn’t find any solution. So I decided on the manual solution, I would import and draw the artwork in the graphics program, print it out on a slide and then manually trace the track on the screen with the slide.

Thomas Schillig GPS SUP Rabbit

For drawing I am using

Sounds simple! Did you have any issues with plotting the track on your computer?

The biggest challenge is to find a graphic that is drawn in one line, but I eventually found what I was looking for on a vector stock platform. It is also good to choose a design that has a start and end point as close as possible to your entry point, just to make things simpler.

Ok, so when you have your design and you have programmed your GPS how do you follow that on the water?

Before paddling I sync the track I have made to my GPS watch then I can start to paddle. At every point on the route my watch beeps but the first time I tried I soon lost all sense of direction. Which part of the rabbit’s body was I on right now? Why do I suddenly have to turn?

For my first rabbit, I was a bit confused when my track suddenly stopped and ended in a dead end. What’s up? – Does the watch stop following the track? Do I have to start over? I was completely at a loss.

Then I zoomed back a bit further on the watch screen and realised that this was where the paw ended and I needed to paddle back with a pivot turn.

For the other designs, I always had a printed paper drawing with me to help follow the virtual track. I keep this on the board so I always have an idea of where I am and where I need to go next. It really helps!

That sounds complicated, I often get confused following a training program on my watch and I am not trying to draw anything! Were there any other challenges while paddling?

Sometimes the commercial fishing boats on the lakes were a problem for me. They have priority on the water and even if there are only 2-3 on the lake at a time, one was always somewhere at one of my key points! That is why in my latest drawing, the koala also has a slightly strange-looking left ear.

The end results you have posted in SUP My Race look great, how many points are there in each drawing?

A lot! The two rabbits each had about 160 waypoints and the Koala has more than 180 waypoints. It is important that the routes have less than 200 points if you use otherwise they cannot be processed or saved.

You have set the bar high for any other paddlers who want to emulate you, your animals look great. I also noticed that you have a very unusual board for your artwork?

Ha, yes it is unusual. I paddle an Airboard SUP, a Swiss Brand of inflatable Stand Up Paddleboards where I work in Development and Production. I do almost all Ultra-Longdistance with my special Concept SUP (14‘ x 27“)

Talking of ultra-long distance paddling, your koala design is a significant distance for any paddler but I know you are a paddler that likes to go a lot further

Yes, I did the Yukon River Quest last year. – after 3 Years of waiting and training and waiting and training! I had signed up for the event in 2020 but Covid made it impossible so it was great to get on the start line, I finished in fourth place overall and was the fastest inflatable SUP ever. I have paddled the Yukon River before but 2022 was great and this year I will try to get the podium.

Completing the Yukon River Challenge is an incredible achievement and that’s a seriously impressive result! I am sure that everyone who reads this wishes you luck with your 2023 River paddle and hopes to see more of your fantastic SUP Art on the water.

You can find Thomas’ on the water on the many lakes in Switzerland and you will find his regular posts on SUP My Race and sometimes on his social media. You do not need such a unique-looking board to paint your own GPS SUP Art but if you are interested in the Airboard concept you can see more on the Airboard Facebook page.

If Thomas’ work has inspired you to create your own SUP masterpiece tag TotalSUP when have finished and you post it on your social media so we can all see how you get on. Let’s get those creative juices flowing!

Images from Thomas Schillig, Schaienfotografie and TotalSUP.

About the Author

Chris Jones

Chris is the driving force behind SUP My Race, a distance challenge group for Stand Up Paddlers on Facebook. He is a super-keen paddler who has been on the water for nearly 10 years now and shows no sign of stopping. When he isn’t logging data on his laptop he can be found on the lakes and coastal waters in south west Sweden.

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