Airborne surf’s up

“We are constantly being encouraged to fundamentally question things.”

When Thomas Knupfer from Davos is not thinking about the temperature of shower water, he is working on an electric-powered surfboard.

Thomas Knupfer is a very inquisitive person. After reading that water heated in a microwave has a different nutritional value than water boiled in a pan, he carried out an experiment to find out if it was actually true. He sowed two beds of cress, watering one with microwaved water and the other with water from the pan. And, lo and behold: “There was a very clear difference: the cress that had been given water boiled in a pan came out lovely and strong and green. The cress that had been given microwaved water grew more slowly, was brownish in places and was just generally weaker.” This attitude of wanting to prove things rather than just believe them is, of course, one of the basic qualities any engineer needs to have. And Thomas’ experiment wasn’t just a one-off – he really is in his element with water, at work and in his spare time.

Forget the time while working

Thomas spends much of his spare time flying through the air on a board. As a kiteboarder, he sails over the water off the coasts of Morocco, Egypt, Fuerteventura, Trinidad and Tobago, and Silvaplana – and when snowkiting, he flies over water in its frozen form.


His job at Viega Schweiz AG involves analysing how water is managed in a household – things like how to prevent scalding hot water from suddenly coming out of the shower when someone washes the dishes, how to keep the temperature in the pipes at a constant 60°C to prevent legionella bacteria from growing, or how to conserve water. Something that we take for granted – a constant supply of clean water from the tap at exactly the right temperature – is the starting point for much of the engineering work carried out at the Chur-based company.

“You’re given a lot of room to be creative here.”

Even after more than 12 years with Viega Schweiz AG, Thomas still has such a fascination for the work he does that he regularly forgets the time. “I never look at the clock,” he says and laughs. “Sometimes my wife calls and asks me where I am.” If you ask him to explain why he enjoys working at Viega Schweiz AG so much, he lists all sorts of qualities that make a good employer. “You’re given a lot of room to be creative here. We’re always encouraged to question things as a matter of principle, think outside the box, and give even simple solutions a chance. The working atmosphere is fantastic and the employment conditions are excellent – the company does a lot for the employees. And the new building is also great.”


The flying surfboard is coming soon

Thomas was even allowed to use the 3D printer at the company to make the propeller for his hobby project – an e-surfboard. It’s an invention that combines all his passions: sports, water, technology and trying new things. “It’s a surfboard that’s slightly shorter than normal. There’s a mast with two wings and a propeller mounted underneath, and the battery for the motor sits on top. At a certain speed, the board rises out of the water and you glide on the hydrofoil. So you have much less drag, and it uses less energy.” He is currently still working on ironing out the final few problems, but he is confident that he will be riding his e-board soon. All alone, early in the morning, on a quiet mountain lake in Graubünden.

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