Steve Ball Built His Dragonfly Iii, Took It to the Water, Pedaled Like Crazy—and It's All Hover Now

updated 05/16/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/16/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The wind surfers and weekend fishermen out on Morena Lake in the mountains east of San Diego can't be faulted for doing double takes. What they seem to be seeing is a bearded ascetic skimming across the chop on a windmill-powered, bicycle-bearing, Day-Gloorange kingsize mattress. Only the Patent Office can identify this apparition on sight. It's the world's first human-powered hovercraft, and at the helm—so to speak—is its inventor and purple-faced operator, Steve Ball. Huffing away on the Dragonfly III's bicycle, Ball spins a blower that forces air under his craft, lifting it five inches. His pedaling also powers an 11-foot propeller that gets the boat up to a yawn-inspiring 13.5 mph. Steve, wouldn't something with oars be more practical? "Sure," he agrees, "but it wouldn't be as much fun."

An inveterate tinkerer who lives in San Diego with his wife and two daughters, Ball, 46, has never gone overboard for the commonplace. His hydroplane Dragonfly I set the 1975 kilometer record at 101.476 mph. His Dragonfly II, a low-slung pedal car, won the 1983 world speed championship for human-powered, single-rider vehicles at 54.9 mph. Now Ball, who builds mock-ups for Nissan designers, has a dream for Dragonfly III—he's training to break the 14.89 mph world speed record for human-powered boats in September. "It's no slug," he boasts of his craft. Pedal harder, Steve.

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