Paddle vs. Pedal Kayaks. What’s the difference?

Do I Paddle or Pedal my Kayak?

Paddling a Kayak vs. Pedaling a Kayak. Which do we prefer? Which is right for you?

The choices reverberating throughout the kayak world have become almost overwhelming. The old commercial virtues of the kayak – affordability and simplicity of design and operation chief among them — still hold true.

But, but.

The traditional ease of entry into the sport, most especially fishing from a kayak, has become much more complicated: significant innovation seems a monthly occurrence, and the consequent selection of features and benefits is now a complicated undertaking for even the most casual of kayakers.

Pedal Kayaks

Foot propulsion – pedals! – has emerged as the kayak’s most powerful driver of change. But those back-and-forth, up-and-down movements, first learned on our tricycles and kiddo scooters, are hardly new. Hobie introduced its first pedal-powered watercraft in 1997, twenty years ago in a sport where change is everywhere and oh so ongoing. Hobie’s contribution lay in making pedal power attractive to recreational paddlers and, most importantly, to anglers, now hands-free for casting and retrieving lures and flies. About ten years later, Native Watercraft introduced new engineering in that splendid company’s pursuit of a workable, sustainable pedal device. Watercraft named it Propel, significantly different from Hobie’s Mirage Drive.

Propel involves rotated pedals with a propeller. Mirage design calls for push pedals with attached fins, moving back, forth, and sideways. Another prominent kayak manufacturer, Old Town, has created its own iteration of a pedal drive: the Predator PDL. Other manufacturers, Wilderness Systems perhaps chief among them, are introducing their own take on pedal power.

And so, at its waterborne heart, the debate probably devolves to a single defining question: do I pedal or do I paddle?

You’ll need to think in selfish terms here. Distinct advantages and some unavoidable disadvantages apply, and you’ll need to weigh them carefully in terms of your own enjoyment, your own unique take on a great day on the water.

Paddle Kayaks

We begin with the paddle.
Classic, lying at the foundation of human travel on lakes and rivers, the paddle will take you down to the sea quickly, no, immediately. With far more money left in your wallet. For many kayakers, maybe for you, cost becomes the determining factor in the purchase decision. For, let’s say, five hundred dollars, you can lift a traditional kayak into the bed of your pickup, paddle included. Multiply that five-large figure by four, and you’re arrived at starting price for a pedal model.

With the old-style kayak, your issues about maintenance are essentially nil. Not so with the sophisticated designs of a pedal model.

Old-school kayaks maneuver more quietly — with less disturbance of underwater features, less slapping of mud and sand, fewer collisions with submerged treetops –than do the zooming movements of propellers and fins. With complete visibility below, assuming mellow movement of the paddle, you can probably move without spooking the fish into that honey hole far more easily in a traditionally designed kayak.

Now for the negatives.
Just one really, but it subsumes the entire sport of fishing from a kayak. You operate with but two arms. And two becomes a lonely number in the slightest little bit of wind, with only a smidgen of current. Metaphysical fact is: you cannot fish and paddle at the same time; kayaks were never meant for trolling. Either you’re casting and retrieving, or you’re controlling the movement and position of the kayak. Never shall those twain functions meet.