Pedal Boats: The Joy of Hobie Kayaking

Take a cyclist and kayaker and the twain shall never meet, right? Well, not if you consider the Hobie kayak, one of the best ways to combine a passion for cycling and boating.

Kayaks are one of the oldest watercrafts used by humans. Developed hundreds of years ago, the versatile and nimble craft has changed little through the years. Its simplicity and grace are the primary reasons so many people enjoy playing or exploring the water that covers two-thirds of our planet. In recent years, the Hobie kayak with its unique drive system is increasingly showing up on lakes, reservoirs, rivers and the ocean.

Introduced in 1997 by Hobie Alter, the inventor of the Hobie Cat, the motorless Hobie Kayak MirageDrive™ system allows kayakers to use their legs to pedal and propel the boat. Think: recumbent bicycling on the water. The MirageDrive™ employs the mechanics of flippers to push the water and propel the boat.

You’ll notice three things the first time you slip into a Hobie kayak:

—They’re much faster than a regular kayak. In fact, pedaling the Mirage drive, you’ll reach speeds that exceed your effort.

—They’re way more stable than a similar sized paddling kayak. The back and forth motion of the fins actually help stabilize the craft as it moves through water and waves.

—Your arms and hands are free: relax, snack, sip a beverage, photograph or fish. Point the ergonomically located steering lever in the direction you want to go and the rudder, and ultimately, the craft follows.

Hobie kayaks are unique in the boating world, and part of what makes them so remarkable for cyclists is that they allow you to get off the road and on to the water for a change, especially when you’re traveling in Hawaii, and, depending, on the island you’re on, have run out of roads to ride. Of course, you can also find them for rent in places like San Diego or Palm Beach, FL, and even Tempe, AZ (for trips on Lake Powell).

You’ll find the Mirage pedaling system on everything from the 10-foot Sport kayak to the newly released Pro-Angler tandem, a 17-ft. Hobie designed for two anglers. All of this style of kayak can also be paddled or sailed as well, making them a pedal, paddle or sail craft. For those who love to sail, there is the Adventure series with two buoyant float arms on the side for stability. All of the kayaks have rudders for steering.

The Mirage series include sit-on-top kayaks, which are well known to Southern Californians and kayak anglers. “They are incredibly versatile boats,” says Michole Jensen, a kayak fly fisherman whose blog and YouTube Channel, chronicles his Hobie kayak fishing adventures. “You can use them in small and large rivers, lakes, bays and even the ocean,” he says. “I even stand up and fly fish on lakes and larger rivers in the larger kayaks,” says Jensen. He says he chose the Mirage when he needed a way of moving his kayak backwards when he fly fished. “I think I was an early adopter in using the mirage drive backwards, but when I explain it to people they get it.”

Hobie kayaks are fun and anyone who has trouble paddling because of joints issues will find himself or herself enjoying the water with a renewed sense of adventure. “They are still a bit of a novelty outside Hawaii, California, Texas, and Florida,” but whenever I take my Hobies out in the Northwest, I not only get funny looks but also lots of questions. For cyclists the Hobie Mirage kayaks are a natural extension of their sport on the water and take advantage of the power and stamina most cyclists already possess. It’s a good change-up for them, to be sure. It gives your arms and wrists, and even neck and butt a break.”

Try renting one—they’re easy to use and launch—intuitive actually—and typically come with everything you need to get out on the water for a morning or afternoon, and maybe even a full day adventure. Like a quality bike, the Mirage series isn’t cheap but as soon as you get on the water, you’re likely to never go back to a paddle kayak.

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Jo Ostgarden

Jo Ostgarden is a freelance journalist who has traveled around the world by plane, train, thumb, bicycle and automobile. She bicycled across Canada, the Pacific Coast Highway from Oregon to British Columbia and throughout 14 countries abroad. Additionally, she's an enthusiastic longtime backpacker who calls the Grand Canyon her own personal energy spot. She's also expert on travel in the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii and Ireland. She edited and re-wrote the final edition of Best Places Northwest Travel Guide, and has written about travel, health, nutrition and endurance sports gear for dozens of magazines and newspapers, including Bicycling Magazine.

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