On the latest episode of Grown-Up Hack we had the pleasure of interviewing Peter Ruwe from EWAKE, the creator of the shortest, lightest and fastest jet board made in Germany. In our exchange with Peter, he explains what that means, how the whole thing is built, and how the technology behind it works.
Our Conversation with Peter Ruwe
Why don’t you introduce yourself?
“My name is Peter Ruwe and I am proud that we cracked this thing: The shortest board with the best speed. That’s why we gave ourselves the title “Greed for Speed”. I think that says it all.”
What is an electrically powered jet board? It almost sounds like a hoverboard from Back to the Future.
“Exactly. We’re going in that direction. Hoverboards are already going in the right direction. The jet board rides on water, just like a wakeboard, as you usually know it. But this one works electrically. So that there is no risk of injury, it is jet powered. Such jet boards have been around for 10-12 years, but they were gasoline-powered with small two-stroke engines. Everyone knows the sound of a two-stroke engine, it’s just loud, annoying and it stinks. It’s not hip anymore and it’s not ecofriendly. Since there are more powerful batteries and these brushless electric motors, something is coming off. We shipped a board to Canada that has 40 horsepower, and the board only weighs 30kg. It’s just barely usable. The water has to be really flat for you to ride it. It’s a gnarly technology. That’s the thing. As an engineer for me, it was just the thing where I had to get in.”
How did you get in touch with EWAKE and jet boards?
“After all, I am not so young anymore. I am 52 years, have 2 children and have settled. Since 2007 I had my own company in the field of energy supply, which I managed and sold some time ago. I have always been interested in energy and electricity. Me and my wife drive electric cars, of course.”
What kind if you don’t mind me asking? Are you a Tesla driver?
“Yes. Model 3, of course.”
Now off topic. I first had to come to terms with how much power this car has. It’s fierce. If you don’t get into moderate acceleration mode, it’s intense.
“Especially when you try it out on a country road, I think you first notice how fast the car is and how quickly everything passes you by. That’s awesome. My wife drives a Mercedes EQC, which is the SUV form. That’s really great, too. You have to keep that in mind because we are not or were not at the forefront with the German carmakers. But Mercedes did quite something. We are electrically equipped. However back to water sports: I’ve been involved in water sports ever since I can remember, first through my parents. I have the sailing licenses for the coast and the sea. I went white-water kayaking and so on. I’m also a wakeboarder. I’ve always liked that. But then it was actually my wife who came around and said to me: Did you see that there are electric wakeboards now? That was about 2 years ago. Since then, I couldn’t let it go. In 2020, I founded a limited liability company with Sascha Pollrich and we really got into it.”
Sascha is the inventor of the whole thing, he invented the technology behind it, and you were first a user and then went from user to co-partner?
“Yes, you could say so. Sasha was inspired by a trip to Jamaica. There, the jet skis, the water motorcycles, are banned because they are loud. In Hawaii he got the idea, tried that at home and built it. I bought my first board from him. That was in the early 2020s. There weren’t that many players on the market and you could see that a lot was being tried and a lot was being developed. That was a cool thing. I got infected by that. There was also a need for capital and an need for management. That’s what needs to come together: Craft or technology and business. Then on October 1, 2020, we launched.”
The garage or workshop will always be a part of where development takes place. But you turned professional, with marketing and sales behind it. What has happened to you since then?
“Well, I am an industrial engineer. I specialized in electrical and mechanical engineering. It was clear to me that we had to bring technology into the boards from carbon. It’s not as personal as it used to be, where men shaped the surfboard on the beach and sanded it for weeks until the shape was right. They don’t do that anymore. They work with CAD programs. Carbon hulls are well known and widely used in racing. We use these technologies today. Siemens and others have helped us a lot with start-up programs.”
How did you use Solid Edge for you and for further development in general and for prototyping future versions?
“Solid Edge was a key factor for us. We have someone on our team who has worked for various automotive manufacturers with different CAD programs for many years, with 25-30 years of professional experience. For us this was a key factor. You need this CAD software to bring the design to life. In a quality that the customers also expect. When you imagine these symmetries, you can’t do it with a hammer and chisel anymore. We need technology to do it. Siemens was very straightforward about getting into these startup programs, and that gave us access to Solid Edge. We use that for the mold, the electrical wiring, the schematics, but also the batteries are a real success factor for these boards. We also build these boards ourselves, or with a subcontractor, to be able to produce these quantities. The rechargeable batteries and batteries are a real success factor. People are also moved by lithium batteries: Will it burn at some point? How do I store it in winter? We have a seasonal product. We mainly drive when the sun is shining. We have to thank Siemens. The Solid Edge software was important for us in the area of design and electrical circuit diagrams.”
If you are currently in the technical development of a product and are looking for suitable CAD software to support you, there is a support program for young companies, and you should look at Solid Edge. Good software costs money. As it was with you, Peter, that you were accepted by Siemens without complications to use Solid Edge.
“That’s perhaps not entirely unimportant. It’s not just about this software and getting the licenses. That’s important, of course – also the financing. But what was also important at Siemens was that you have a certain environment. At the moment, we are in talks with the TU Munich regarding a special software with 20 students for the year 2022. We are one of 12 projects, that only works with a partner at your side who doesn’t just sponsor free licenses. That’s what I find so great about Siemens. They put us in touch with people like they did with TU Munich. It goes beyond the licensing issue.”
It’s not just about the license, it’s also about the ecosystem that resonates and is important. It’s cool that you got in touch with the TU Munich and can participate in such a great project.
“Exactly. We also have some exciting topics in mind for 2022 with this board. But more on that later.”
Great. Peter, why don’t you enlighten us? There are these foil boards. I think they’re great. I haven’t ridden one yet, but I really want to. But just so we don’t get steered onto the wrong track. Can you briefly explain the difference?
“Sure, with pleasure. These eFoils are the boards that rise out of the water and seem to float. There’s a wing underneath. From 7 or 8 km/h, the board lifts you up. The dynamic buoyancy lifts you up… about 50 cm. The boards have a long stem with a wing underneath, like a hydrofoil. They seem to float over the water. It’s a different way to ride, though. As a comparison: I would compare mono ski with an eFoil and snowboard with a jetboard. With a jetboard you ride on the surface of the water, you make the turn by the water pressure. You can do slalom and you have the direct influence of the waves. You don’t have that with the eFoil. It’s more of a calmer ride, you can’t do backflips, you can’t do hard turns. You stand on a pole and float over the water. Very sublime and great. There are a couple of approaches to make that more dynamic. That’s powered by a propeller motor, about 5 kW. They are not slow. But I prefer to actively ride on the water and feel the wave behind a boat. This is fun from my point of view. One has a freedom and determines on the basis of the wireless handheld, a pusher. You can ride the way you want. That was the difference. I don’t want to disqualify an eFoil, that’s okay too. But it’s a totally different way of riding. You just have to make a decision. You can go to a test center and see what’s most fun and how you want to use it.”
It all looks a bit cumbersome. The movements are drawn out. You are not agile. But what’s cool about the foils is that you can surf the smallest waves even without a motor just with muscle power. You can almost surf on the open sea.
“Yes. They already have a certain justification on the one hand. It’s a different kind of driving. Unfortunately, there is no hybrid solution yet. I’ve thought about that a lot, too. It would be cool if you could extend that at the push of a button. But from a purely technological point of view, you have to have the drive in the wing. That’s just not possible.”
You should send Mark Zuckerberg a board. He’s always on the move on a foil. I’m sure it would be cool for him to have something more agile.
“Yes, absolutely. The shortest board we have is 1.51m. That’s really short. Most boards are around 1.90m. Then some of them go up to 2.60m. They are then no longer so agile.”
What is the best place to use an EWAKE? Where do I have the most fun? What about registration? Can I use an EWAKE on a lake, for example?
“You’re addressing several issues. Personally, I think it’s great to ride on the Mediterranean, because the salt draws a nice line. We also have a video on YouTube from our trip to Croatia in the summer of 2021, where you can also see it very nicely. It also looks great from the air. That’s my personal favorite thing to do. But you can also use it in wake parks. You can go to the wake parks with the wakeboards. There we have a video “Jet board vs. Wakeboard – Who wins?”. There Dominik Gührs rides in Munich. You can watch it on YouTube. That’s also fun. On lakes, you have to see who owns it. On public lakes, it’s usually forbidden. It’s like surfing, you can’t do that on every lake either. You have to ask. The electric wakeboards are really quiet. You can stand on the shore and all you hear is water rushing. You don’t hear the motors. These are also patents that we have. We have a special cork layer so the boards don’t sound so hollow and like plastic. We use carbon, which is light. When you knock against our board, it doesn’t sound like plastic. We are relatively quiet and tolerable. Another thing about the eFoils: They make almost no waves. A buddy of mine rode them once in Berlin and the water police stopped him and were rather thrilled. They have a narrow wing and make almost no waves. But that doesn’t mean you can just drive. With all boats over 5 kW you need partly driving license or it is generally prohibited.”
Can I go on a lake where there are kite surfers?
“I think you have to ask to be sure. There is no general regulation. There is a general regulation for federal waterways and a couple of active jet board clubs. One here, actually: “Wake Heaven”. It is going online soon. On lakes you have to ask. Where one does not disturb and behaves reasonably, it is often tolerated. There is no office that deals with giving permission on municipal lakes. It’s a grey area. On federal waterways it is clearly regulated: From 15 hp, you must have a driver’s license in Germany. The exception here is the Rhein: It’s above 5 hp.”
There has long been the trend of electrically powered skateboards. That’s cool. But there was no general regulation for it. There was talk from the Federal Minister of Transport that everything that rides on the road needs handlebars. But then that was withdrawn. I have a bunch of friends who were skateboarding and got fined and had their licenses taken away. That was a stress at the end. That’s why I am asking this question.
“Yeah. It depends on the number, for sure. We also have a buoy set at the beginning of the season where you can do competitions. Siemens has a low-code platform called Mendix. It can be used to put software applications on the road. Low code is also quite modern. So if there’s not too much there, it’s certainly tolerated. There are certain lakes where it’s forbidden. It’s also forbidden in Switzerland, except in fun parks or wake parks. In Austria, there is a very well-known fun park. We advise our customers and register the boards with the waterways authority. Whoever buys a board, we register the boards for them.”
Where do we lie in terms of price with EWAKE?
“Entry starts at 5,500 euros. We have a special program: You don’t have to buy the batteries from us. You can rent the battery and get a new one every 4 years. You always have a fresh supply of energy. It costs around 20 euros per month. All you have to do is buy the board and we take care of the energy. This battery fair value program also includes a storage during winter. So the battery is safe.”
It sounds like a dream. You come from the energy industry and now you’ve been able to bring two worlds together: On the one hand the sustainable energy topic and your favorite sport, surfing. That sounds like a dream.
About the batteries. That’s always an issue: range and charging capacities. With the Tesla, there was also a switch from production in the U.S. to China. How is your battery constructed? How long can I surf with the battery at a stretch?
“The battery lasts between 20 and 40 minutes, depending on the driving style. However, I’ve never managed to drive completely through a battery. I usually had to stop beforehand. You notice it immediately in your thighs. We offer an exchangeable battery so that we don’t get too heavy. About the technology: There is the lithium-ion technology and the lithium polymer. The batteries that do not burn are the lithium iron phosphate batteries. Technically, the batteries differ in voltage. The former batteries can be run down to 3.2 volts at a voltage of 4.2 volts. Voltage difference: 1 volt. These cells tolerate this very well. The voltage is an essential aspect for the electric motors. On the other hand, there are lithium iron phosphate batteries. These are operated in a voltage range between 3.7 and 2.5 volts. That means you have to pack more cells in series to get a higher voltage. With these, I can force out more energy. The energy density is a bit higher. Water sports are always weight sensitive; you want to have as little weight as possible. That’s why these batteries work so well. With the lithium-ion batteries, a battery management system is installed. A small computer is installed there, which makes sure that the 14 or 16 cells that are joined together – with around 180 or 200 small individual batteries – do not get too hot, and that the current that is drawn is not too high. If the driver wants to drive even more or the battery is in the sun, then this battery management system protects the cells. The safety is already very high with these. So, we offer those two different batteries at EWAKE. But we are also in the process of offering lithium iron phosphate batteries for the 2022 season. If you pierce the battery, it won’t start to burn or short out. There is still a lot to be expected in the future. Rechargeable batteries are a key technology. In addition, if customers agree, the batteries are online, and you can check the temperature, the state of charge, and the cell status. This means that before a customer notice anything, we already have it on the screen and can then help directly and send a new battery.”
A remote analysis, so to speak.
“Exactly. Our batteries are also equipped with GPS and an LTE connection. That also comes from the energy industry. If you’re familiar with it, it’s called NB-IoT, or narrowband IoT technology. We have that in our batteries. Even if you have those in the basement, they can still send a signal. These are technologies that are also used in the energy industry for plant monitoring. We have this in our battery. The customer can decide whether he wants to have it or not.”
High-tech. Do you manufacture them yourselves?
“Yes. We developed it ourselves. That’s what sets us apart, and we also have a number of patents on these technologies.”
You are using Siemens Solid Edge again, aren’t you?
“Yes. That is also a key factor for us. There is great technology behind it and you also need a wiring diagram for it with Solid Edge.”
How long do I have to charge?
“Half an hour, then it’s charged. We also have a charger for boats. I have a motorboat myself that is 8 meters long, and we have a small voltage converter, so you can also charge the battery. We always do this so that we have a morning session, then we eat something, change the location and then we have an afternoon session.”
I’m still waiting for the invitation.
“No question. It’s officially pronounced now.”
Very good. I’m glad to hear that. The whole thing is also controlled by software. You are also developing the software. What’s going on?
“Of course, there are also software apps where the batteries are mentioned, driving data, and so on. We know that from many other applications as well. But from my point of view, that’s not what we really enjoy. We are currently in the process of making a competition software. Starting in 2022, you’ll be able to race virtually against an opponent. We have buoy sets where we can record exactly when someone drives around a buoy. You can then compete in Munich with your buddy from Hamburg. This is merged on the software. We have a patent registered for a multimedia board. That means we have onboard cameras that can stream. You can drive a competition at different places and even at different times. We will bring that together.”
If your board becomes a multimedia tool and has a camera on board, then you are also changing from a technology manufacturer to a media company. You produce content or your customers produce content, which you can use. Your drivers are athletes. Content is created which you can use perfectly with social media. With the consent of the users, of course.
Second point: I’ve been involved with Web 3.0, blockchain and cryptocurrency since 2017. It would be exciting if you make a play-to-earn approach. That means when you do the contests, you can win an in-game currency, an EWAKE coin for example. You can use that to buy boosts for the competition, to buy a cut of the video, which is then made available online. You can also buy stuff in the EWAKE merchandise store.
“That’s a great idea. You can even buy from us in Bitcoin or Ether already.”
You said to me earlier: If you give me a good idea today, you’ll give me a board. I cashed in my part.
“Yeah. All right. Now you’re going to get me in trouble. But that’s a cool idea and I’m open to something like that. I think the multimedia board is just a fun thing. Even if you have only one board on a boat and you have 2 people racing around a buoy set, you can compare afterwards.”
Great idea! I know a lot about games. The important thing for motivation to participate in a game is a reward. You always must motivate people to do it. An internal currency is one of the best rewards you can introduce.
“Absolutely. I’d love to forge some of these ideas after the podcast. “
I’d love to. I can imagine that mistakes happened on a project like that, too. Did you have moments like that?
“Yes. Battery topic. When you’re not on the beach, when you’re on the boat, you want to have an easy use. We struggled with putting the battery in and shutting the hatch. Whenever you’re on the beach, though, it’s very annoying because you’d get water or sand into the battery compartment. It was very much suboptimal. We then changed it so that the battery was the lid. You can put the battery in the compartment. Now you don’t need an extra lid. We don’t even have buckles anymore, our battery is held down with strong electromagnets and to take it out, you demagnetize it. Whenever you want to put something in the case or have contacts, you can’t have water in there. It gets in everywhere but should not get in there. We have also patented this. Now I can talk about it, last year I couldn’t because we had to wait for a few things. Patent always needs half a year for opposition periods. These deadlines are now over. Thanks to our Siemens software, we were able to implement and configure everything this way. Now in 2022, things are really taking off for us. But that was a stumbling block for us. We wanted to get away from locking mechanisms, where you always have a problem on the beach with sand and water.”
I can imagine that. It’s nice to hear that you have so many patents and so much IP that belongs to you and adds value. Such a patent can also help many others who might need such a battery in a different case or constellation. There can still be several possible applications. But it is very important for the value of the company.
“Yes, indeed. We are not at all focused on just having it ourselves. Especially with this topic, we are also interested in partner companies that might also want to get in.”
I can imagine that. I am so into EWAKE now. Maybe some of the listeners feel the same way. I’m going to go to your website and watch the videos you talked about. To get to the EWAKE website, please go to www.EWAKE.shop. There you will find all the information about the boards and the technology. There are videos and you can deep dive them. If you’re a producer or developer and you’re into CAD software, you want to prototype or build, then definitely check out Solid Edge. I’ll put the website in the show notes for you. There’s a startup program that allows that participation and use and most importantly the ecosystem to go with it. As Peter said earlier, you have the opportunity to connect with other stakeholders. That’s a lot of value that resonates. Peter, thank you very much for today’s interview.
This blog post is brought to you by Siemens with their Solid Edge software solution. Siemens has created an ingenious program for startups that makes it easy for new companies to access premium software and resources, including online training and community support. Get Solid Edge software free for one year now. For more information about Solid Edge, the Start-Up Program, and how to apply, visit siemens.com/startups-en