Jim Czarnowski

An angler since his formative years in Yellowstone National Park, Jim Czarnowski is now in his tenth year as Director of Engineering at Hobie Cat Company.  With numerous design credits to his name, Jim has lead the team responsible for many of Hobie most beloved products.  When not creating Hobie’s next must-have items, Jim can be found sampling the local fisheries, paragliding the Southern California skies, adventure racing with his wife, Elena, or heading to Alaska in search of salmon and halibut. 

What first drew you to this style of angling? When was that?

At about age 10, I started bait fishing and fly fishing from a cheap Wal-Mart inflatable raft in the rivers and lakes of Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana.   It allowed me to get away from the shore and other fisherman.

Do you remember the first fish that you caught from a kayak? 

It was a frying-pan sized rainbow, and I let it tow my inflatable raft until it couldn’t pull me any further!  First fish from an official fishing kayak was a nice calico bass, in the kelp, off of Encinitas, CA.

The Hobie Mirage Drive, and the associated Turbo Fins, have become highly sought-after items amongst the kayak angling populace, with the truly devoted fans elevating the propulsion system to the highest possible regard.  Often referred to as the number one game-changer for kayak anglers, the Mirage Drive was derived, in part, from a penguin.  Can you elaborate on this bird-kayak connection? 

A colleague in my MIT research lab did amazing work studying how and why the blue fin tuna is such an efficient and powerful swimmer.  He built a robotic tuna, called RoboTuna, that could learn to swim efficiently and measure its power consumption.  This was great, but it is difficult to build a ship with a flexible “tuna” body and wagging tail off the back.  While searching for inspiration at the New England Aquarium in Boston, I was drawn to the large circular aquarium, where I spent hours mesmerized by the black and white rocket birds efficiently zipping by.  It turns out they are the perfect analogy for the mirage drive, a nearly rigid body (kayak hull equivalent) and two powerful and efficient flippers (turbo fins).  They also happen to be extremely efficient swimmers covering thousands of miles in their annual migrations.  I returned to the lab determined to see if a boat could be propelled efficiently with underwater flapping fins.  Over the next couple year,s and earning my Masters degrees in Mechanical and Ocean engineering, I constructed and tested several “Penguin Boats” that proved the possibility for practical and efficient flapping fin propulsion of a rigid boat hull.

What food and/or music fuels your drive to the put-in? 

My awesome bride will get up way too early and make me a spicy breakfast burrito; black coffee and NPR (I know nerdy) gets me to the put-in.

Who, specifically, is shaping the future of kayak angling? 

Plenty of great innovation across many companies in recent years, and I am clearly biased, but Hobie Fishing is leading the charge.

With regard to kayak angling, what issues are important to you?  What, if anything, can be done about them? 

Habitat destruction – from over use, industry, climate change, or unnecessary political closures – threaten our way of life.  We all need to stay involved any way we can, and fight the good fight.

The Tandem Island is a boat with a developmental past deeply linked to your own outdoor pursuits, including small boat adventures with your wife, and long distance racing.  Explain to us the interplay between real world testing and conceptual development as it occurred with the creation of the Tandem Island.

The TI was, in many ways, born in the Everglades Challenge (300 mile adventure race between Tampa Bay and Key Largo Florida).  My wife, Elena, and I have done the event three times, first on an early fiberglass version of the TI, then a pre-production plastic version, and finally on a production boat with a new rudder design and prototype jib.  The event really pushes the boat to the limit and exposes weaknesses that would not be seen in the waters off of San Diego.  Being there to have this experience first-hand has been invaluable in making design choices and changes and I feel has resulted in an amazing product.

Barring money or logistics, what is your dream kayak angling trip? 

A self-contained adventure/fishing trip covering the entire Baja California Peninsula – Start in San Felipe in the spring and round Cabo San Lucas by early summer and head up the pacific coast back to SD by mid summer.  Boat of choice: Hobie Tandem Island.  Anyone want to do a TV show?

It is, perhaps, a notion sometimes overlooked by most kayak purchasers, but there is a lot of science, material testing, and engineering that goes into boat shape and design.  In your opinion, what are some of the structural details that potential boat buyers should pay attention to? 

For me, it is the details.  It is pretty easy to make a new boat “look” good at first glance.  It is when you spend many hours in it that your start to appreciate the little things.  Attention to these details is what makes design so challenging and rewarding to me.  Quality can be an elusive property.

What’s in your milk crate? 

The usual:  communication, navigation and fishing electronics, gaff, fish keeper and grip, foul weather gear, tackle for the target species.

Tell us about your best day on the water. 

That is a tough one, many to choose between.  OK, early September morning launch in Tandem Island with my bride from La Gringa at the northern end of Bahia de los Angeles.  Crossing over towards Isla Smith we encounter several pods of whales – not sure of the species but could be right whales, and they are all around us.  I jump in the water with a mask on to swim with them, but soon realize not such a good idea as the krill reduced the vis to a few feet, and the whales are blindly feeding on the krill!  There are huge bait balls all around, birds diving and dolphins feeding frantically.  We make bait and start fly-line trolling and cranking irons from the bottom.  Before long, we hook up to some feisty bonita and small yellows on the irons.  The wind picks up, and after a picnic lunch, snorkeling and sunbathing rest at a private cove on Isla Smith, we unfurl the sail and enjoy adrenaline packed sailing around Isla Smith and back across the bay to La Gringa.  What an incredible Hobie day!!

What is the kayak fishing lifestyle? 

Balance of work and enjoyment.  Connection with nature and the amazing critters we share the planet with.

Tell us a story, any story. 

A year ago on my birthday, I took my parents from Colorado kayaking in Oceanside Harbor.  After a great outing I told them to enjoy the sunset while I load the boats in my newly acquired F-150, four-door, 4×4.  The truck was packed up and ready to pull up the ramp when I remembered something I left on the dock.  I engaged the parking brake, stopped the motor, and left it in first gear.  By the time I got to the dock, I was shocked to see it rolling back down the steep ramp, picking up speed as it moved towards the water.  Apparently the e-brake was not so good.  I had just enough time to slam the open door as it rolled by.  An F-150 floats surprisingly well until the windows automatically roll down (safety feature?).  The bad thing about smart phones is that now-a-days folks seems more interested in taking photos and videos of a disaster than helping out.  As I looked up at the dock with anguish on my face, I was greeted by a rapidly growing crowd of amateur videographers.  As it turns out, I failed to purchase comprehensive insurance and the truck was a total loss.  I can laugh about it now but it took a while!

You have stated that your first boat, a Popsicle stick-powered paddle wheel, was created when you were just eight years old.  Have you always known that your career would be in this field? 

That is funny.  I started out all boats, then got into airplanes – U-control, radio control, full scale general aviation, Aerospace engineering undergrad degree – and then something clicked and I got back into boats in Grad school, and have immensly enjoyed the last 10 years building boats at Hobie.  I still am excited about flight, and a perfect day for me is hooking a yellow at La Jolla early in the morning, and after the wind picks up in the afternoon, paragliding the cliffs of Torrey Pines.

What does the future hold for you? 

No one knows for sure, but hopefully a happy healthy life, raising a family, and passing on the gifts my folks gave me.


2 Responses to “Jim Czarnowski”

  1. Rob Appleby says:

    An enjoyable read for sure. On a side note, the scenery in some of those photos is truly stunning!

  2. Luther Cifers says:

    I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Jim but his accomplishments speak for themselves. The Mirage Drive is absolute genius and represents one of the most innovative advancements in this sport to date.

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