Helpful Guide on How to Pedal Kayak

body of water under blue and white sky
Photo by Clovis Castaneda on Unsplash

Built by the indigenous Inuit people for hunting and fishing in the freezing waters of the Arctic Ocean, the first kayak ever was made over 4,000 years ago. From first kayaks made of sealskin stretched over a wooden or whalebone skeleton frame to the sturdy, agile models available today, kayaks have gone through many innovations over the years.

Nowadays, there are several variations on the original hunting kayak, each tailored for a specific use. From tour kayaks to surf kayaks to the high-end kayaks used in the Olympics, the choices are many.

Perhaps one of the most significant innovations, however, is the pedal-powered kayak. In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about pedal kayaking, how to pedal kayak, and what advantages pedal kayaks have over traditional paddle kayaks.

Types of Pedal Kayaks and How They Work

When choosing a pedal kayak, there are two basic options: the original Mirage Drive system (the first type of pedal kayaks manufactured by Hobie Kayaks in 1997) and the propeller drive system. How to pedal kayak depends on the type of system you’re using.

Mirage Drive System

The Mirage Drive is a pedal-powered device made of two identical fins that propel the kayak in different directions. There are different fin sizes to suit different kayaks. Most kayakers with this type of drive choose to upgrade to the “turbo” fin version, seen on some of Hobie’s most popular kayaks, due to its additional length and design enable kayakers to go further and faster in the water with minimal energy exertion.

Kayaks with a Mirage Drive system utilize push pedals. The force generated by using your feet and ankles to push the pedals downwards causes the fins to move side to side (like fish fins) propelling your kayak forward. Push pedals are pretty compact and stable, but aren’t as fast as propeller drives.

Also, no momentum is retained between pedaling sessions, so there’s no cruising involved.

Propeller Drive

The company Native Watercraft (arguably Hobie Kayaks’ number one competitor) first created an alternative to the Mirage Drive in 2008: the propeller drive system.

This system utilizes rotational pedals, much like those of a bicycle. On a bike, however, you push downwards, unlike the backward force exerted to move the rotational pedals on this type of pedal kayak.

The propeller is situated underneath the kayak, so the faster you pedal, the faster you’ll go. The rotation can go in both clockwise and anti-clockwise directions, enabling you to move forward and backward with ease.

Unlike the push pedals on the Mirage Drive, rotational pedals don’t lose momentum when you stop pedaling, making them much more efficient in terms of energy exerted. This enables you to travel farther distances faster and with the least energy expenditure.

Should You Buy a Pedal Kayak?

Now that you know exactly how to pedal kayak, let us help you determine whether a pedal kayak is more suitable for your needs than a traditional paddle kayak:

Do You Need Your Hands Free?

Having free hands is probably the most significant advantage a pedal kayak has over a regular paddle kayak. If fishing or photography, for example, are hobbies of yours, a pedal kayak will be perfect for you. You’ll be able to move around swiftly using the pedals and the kayak rudder only occasionally. Fishing in a pedal kayak is particularly popular as it enables you to have your hands completely free to fish.

Another reason you may want to keep your hands free is for a food or drink break. This is especially important if you’re doing an intense workout session in your kayak and need to stay hydrated.

Having your hands free is also handy in keeping your kayak stable if you’re in high waters and you start to lose control. We cover this in more detail in our article on how to safely pedal kayak on the ocean.

Is Speed an Important Factor for You?

Pedal kayaks are much faster than paddle kayaks. Biologically speaking, our legs have the muscles intended for our mobility. Hence, the muscle groups in our legs have much more strength and endurance than our comparatively weak arms, as naturally they’re meant to transport us from one place to another.

Speed may not be a priority for most anglers (although they’ll save time by cutting down on their trip’s time) but certainly being able to move fast is advantageous should any emergency situation come up.

Do You Kayak to Relax or Exercise?

Pedaling requires little (if any) training, and anyone can do it. Paddling, on the other hand, is much more difficult than it looks.

Again, since our leg muscles are much stronger than our arm muscles, pedaling is naturally easier. You can pedal faster, harder, and longer than you could ever paddle, making it a much more efficient way of getting around. Simply put, it takes less energy to go any given distance with a pedal kayak.

Coupled with the momentum generated by rotational pedals, you can simply glide across the water for a relaxing break between pedaling sessions and simply enjoy the scenery without losing too much speed.

Is Your Budget Limited?

If you have a limited budget, a pedal kayak might not be the best choice for you. They can be hundreds of dollars more expensive than traditional paddle kayaks.

Do You Kayak in Areas with Shallow Waters or Heavy Vegetation?

Pedal kayaks aren’t meant for shallow waters and can even be dangerous if there isn’t enough underwater clearance. Because the drive system extends beneath the body of the kayak, the fins or propellers can get caught up in weeds and vegetation damaging it.

However, it’s still possible to pedal kayak with weeds. In fact, check out our article on how to avoid weeds on a pedal kayak.

Do You Carry a Lot of Gear?

In pedal kayaks the space you’d normally have is occupied by the foot propulsion system, meaning you may not have as much space for fishing gear and such.

Final Thoughts

So that’s all we’ve got on pedal kayaking. We hope now that you’ve learned exactly how to pedal kayak, what types of pedal kayaks are available and what advantages they offer, you’ll feel super inspired to try it out. Check out our Ultimate Buying Guide to get started.

Heck, you might even give up your paddle for good!

See you on the water!

Article Author
Robert Walker has been a Kayak enthusiast for over a decade. He's owned several different Kayak's, but only recently got into Pedal Kayaks in the last few years. This website is Robert's way of sharing his passion for Pedal Kayak's with the world.