***This is the second installment of the History of Bellyak. To catch up, read part 1 HERE.***
Second Evolution of the History of Bellyak: The Meat Locker
Flirting With Hypothermia
Neither wind nor rain nor freezing temps were going to keep me from paddling my creations. I had spent countless hours sanding, shaping and glassing my prototype bellyaks and even though the winter of 2011 was a cold one and I didn’t own a drysuit, I was not going to be stopped. Instead, I bought two of the cheapest wetsuits I could find and wore both at the same time. Numb legs, slightly disoriented after freezing myself, and hands that took a few hours to work right again were small side effects compared to the thrill of paddling my own invention.
The process of turning a chunk of foam into a paddleable bellyak had the side effect of producing trash bags full of foam dust. It was everywhere…in my hair, in my bed, and inside my fiddle. The first bellyaks were built in my dads shop, in my yard, under a shade tree, or anywhere I could set up and build…whatever it took to make a boat. In January of 2011, I set up in a warehouse that used to be an old meat locker. It was climate controlled for working with the foam and resin and I had no one to clean up for. Every Wednesday for a year I would work around the clock to have something to paddle for the weekend.
I had learned enough in my first round of prototyping to know what I needed to do different next time. How can I create a bellyak that is as forgiving as the Phat (creek boat) but with the performance of the Session (freestyle kayak)? I had halved my personal collection of kayaks and thus started looking for used boats, something with a wide planing hull and somewhere between seven and eight feet long.
Nipple to Knee
After a few complete failures, I learned that a consistent curve from nipple to knee, with knees slightly below hips, was the optimal ergonomic position for prone paddling. I also knew I wanted to work off of a planing hull, since it was much easier to turn and carve with ‘front paw drive.’ I was focused on figuring out the human/kayak interface, as this was the key element for this style of paddling. For this round of R&D I wanted a similar feel to the Liquid Logic Session. For this I found a used Wave Sport EZ and quickly gutted it and cut it in half to make a mold.
Three Versions: Blue, White, Sprout
The EZ bellyak paddled just like a freestyle kayak (defined edges, quick transitions) but didn’t have quite enough bow volume and was very tippy for anyone over 160 pounds. I built three versions of this bellyak, and learned a ton about ‘how’ to paddle; surfing, squirting, spinning were all discovered on this particular evolution of prone paddling.
Hey Man, I Want Your Kayak!
The original bellyak, a Perception 3D, was beyond destroyed for using as a mold. The wide planing hull of the 3D and the extra volume would give me a plug with plenty of volume to work with. After stalking Craigslist and every boaters car at takeouts around the southeast, I found a guy with a 3D at the French Broad River Fest in 2011. I talked him into trading it for my Liquid Logic Little Joe.
Red and yellow: both of these had extra stern volume and bow volume, which gave more stability, and kept the boat from diving as much as the lower volume EZ and Session. This model introduced many of my friends to bellyaking. It had the performance of the Session and EZ but the extra volume made it more forgiving for learning.
New Wave Sleek:
This kayak belonged to a friend of mine and had a few features I wanted to experiment with: length for speed, and figuring out the proper body depth in the bellyak. I built two versions, one blue, one green:
Greeek: much more boat under body (4″ at hips). Very tippy because the high body position, and the extra length made it very fast. Would hold a line but not very easy to use, none of my friends could make it past the eddy line without falling off. I needed to take out foam underneath the hips to allow the paddler to be lower in the boat. Sometimes mistakes are the best answers.
Bleeek: Lowered body area, handled much better, needed more rise for chest.
One of the key factors I was figuring out was the proper body depth in the boat. The ideal is when your hips are level with the surface of the water while floating in the bellyak. If your hips are higher than the surface of the water the boat becomes exponentially tippier. This version also reinforced the idea that secondary stability would be key for prone paddling, thus the planing hull with defined secondary stability was a must.
Liquid Logic Biscuit:
This tumpy little boat was super fun in a wave. I Called it the WTF. Zero hull speed, no glide, awesome in a hole or small wave, but not substantially better in any one category over the Big EZ for prone paddling. It did provide me with valuable insight into the length/width ratios I was figuring out. I had found out what was too short, again getting me closer to the desired outcome.
Wave Sport Big EZ:
This version was the culmination of everything I’d learned so far. More bow volume let me create more of a ‘nipple to knee’ ratio. I got the body area very close to right. I had figured out the crucial elements of the body/boat interface, was figuring out how to do tricks on my knees, and was able to front surf like a champ. Surfing a two foot wave, with my head inches from the water, is a feeling that only a bellyak provides. The length/width, volume distribution and planing hull all added up to an awesome ride.
Sanding, shaping, glassing and paddling: this was how I spent the spring and summer of 2011. It was a crucial time where I developed the skills and techniques that form the basis of bellyaking. But, there was no way I could bring my hand shaped models to the masses, so it was time to put on big boy pants.