Jim czarnowski was in Mission Bay, San Diego, trying to figure out how to help his family. His wife and children were on stand-up paddleboards, too far away to reach, when the wind kicked up. He watched as they each dropped to their knees and tried to stay upright while paddling to shore. As he recalls, “It goes from something that should be fun to a challenge to survive.”
As the director of engineering at Hobie Cat, he couldn’t help but think there must be a better way. He knew paddleboards had become popular in the past five or 10 years, a trend he attributes in part to “a cool factor; it’s kind of like you’re walking on water.”
That got him and his team thinking about Hobie Mirage kayaks, which let you pedal instead of paddle. They believed combining the paddleboard with the pedals could open up the sport of paddleboarding to far more people, including those who find a regular paddle-board too challenging to use. They started with a regular paddleboard as the base but had to redesign it because the pedals made it go so much faster — up to about 7 knots — that the bow dived. They also scrapped the idea of a handlebar that turned like a bicycle’s; tests showed people wanted something steady. “We took what would normally be the brakes on a bike, the levers on the handlebar, and we made it so that if you squeeze the caliper on the right, you go to the right,” he says. “If you squeeze the one on the left, you go to the left. If you let them go, you automatically go straight. It was intuitive. People just naturally do it.”
They tested the resulting Mirage Eclipse in strong winds and a 2-foot chop. It stayed upright. They also tested it off yachts in Oceanside Harbor, California, where they realized the handlebar made it easier than a traditional paddleboard when it comes to stepping on and off a swim platform.
This past April, Hobie Cat introduced the Mirage Eclipse at a dealer meeting. Even they were surprised by the response.
“The reaction was incredibly positive,” he says. “It went viral on social media. We got about 60 million views. It was through the roof. The royal family of Dubai called and said, ‘We want 10, right now.’ People have said, ‘We will fly to your factory, whatever it costs, and pick it up.’ It’s been completely mind-boggling.”
Built For Yacht Stowage
“The assembly is about 30 seconds,” Czarnowski says. “The pedal system, the Mirage Drive, has two levers that unclick, and it pulls out. It’s the size of a pair of snow boots. The handlebar disconnects with a turn knob. It pulls out of the board. It’s about 3 feet long by about 2 feet wide. It can fit into most lazarettes on a yacht. The rudder can come off if you want to stow the board flat. It’s basically a bungee cord that comes off.”