Bellyak lesson at the National Whitewater Center

From Bobsled to Bellyak – A Completely Normal Journey

BIO

Name: Natalie DeRatt

Age: 28

Bellyak Experience: 0

First Track: National Whitewater Center

Bellyak Used: Play 35

In my short life, 18 years has been dedicated to a sport. 12 of those years have been dedicated to competitive sports, and 3 of those years have been spent bobsledding professionally, for both Team USA and Great Britain. Up until recently, it was bobsledding that has given me the biggest thrill – hurtling down  mile-long ice tracks at speeds averaging 75 mph with no way out. That’s until I tried bellyaking at the National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, NC.

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My bellyak background

Based in Asheville, NC, I’ve seen bellyaking before – floating down the river, pictures of them in the surf, and spending lazy days on the beautiful waters of Lake Jocassee.  However, nothing could prepare me for the experience of bellyaking in whitewater. The premise is simple: You hop on, you lay on your belly, you use your arms to direct you. But, what isn’t obvious is your connection with the water. Every little move – a slight lean to the right, a little turn to the left – all affect your ride, and so within minutes of trying one for the first time I felt like I was connected to the water (as frilly as that sounds). Within an hour, I was going down Class III rapids, and loving it.

Bellyak lesson at the National Whitewater Center

My bellyak fears

I’m not going to lie, I’m not the strongest swimmer. My biggest worry was getting knocked off my bellyak in a rapid, sinking to the bottom, and never being heard from again. I came to find out this was way too dramatic of me. It’s actually super easy to just hop back on if you are sent swimming because there are no spray skirts involved and you’re on the boat and not in it. Plus, the bellyak is so buoyant, it took quite the splash to send this lack-of-experience ‘yaker into the water. Imagine if you actually knew what you were doing?!

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I Became Michael Phelps

Although I was the most exhausted human in North Carolina after spending the afternoon bellyaking, it was the biggest thrill I’d had in a long time. While in driving school for bobsled, they let us try skeleton for a couple of runs – the bellyak of the ice. You simply lay on the sled, hold on tight, and ride the ride to the icy bottom. Having now done both, I can tell you bellyaking was SO much more fun. A sort of swimming/ kayaking hybrid, you feel you are literally flying through the water. Or swimming really, really fast. Like faster than Michael Phelps fast. Probably faster than Aquaman too. And it was so intuitive! You treat the boat as if it was an extension of your body.

Bellyaking at the Whitewater Center in Charlotte

Don’t Judge a Bellyak by its Bellyak

What did I learn from this experience? I learned you should never judge an outdoor activity by its cover. I learned that even if you’re not the best swimmer in the world, bellyaking is perfect for you (p.s. Always wear a life jacket). And I learned that exhilaration and adrenaline are available outside of winter sports and roller coasters, and they’re much, much closer than you think! As for  me, I’m already plotting my next bellyak adventure.