History of Bellyak, Evolution Part 3

Evolution to Production

After 6 evolutions of prototyping and over 22 (because some were modified/repaired re-glassed) paddleable prototypes (the dumpster ones don’t count) it was time to go big boy on it. I didn’t have the skills, patience or time to turn a huge block of foam into a plug since a bellyak has compound curves. The skill of carving a surfboard is challenging, but to carve something that has compound curves and still maintain symetry is beyond my search engine. I enlisted Evan Solida, a brilliantly talented CAD designer who visited me at my shop and we got started by cutting up one of my Big EZ Bellyaks into 3″ cross sections, photographing them, and then digitally ‘stitching’ them together in CAD. Evan was instrumental refining my ideas into the models we have today.

 

Evolution 7: Getting Fancy: from Foam and Fiberglass to Rotomolded Polyethylene

My learning increased exponentially while designing this boat. The final version looked nothing like what we started with. My idea was for a general purpose river runner and something that would also be good on flatwater. (a ‘crossover bellyak). I made a rookie design mistake: I designed for what I ‘thought’ would work, and what I ‘thought’ people could paddle…not what I knew to work.

My first designs were a bit too hard to use for the average user and I wanted to make the experience of prone paddling more accessible. After we refined the CAD version as much as possible I ordered my first big chunk of urethane foam and had  the plug cut via CNC at Digital Designs in Winston Salem NC.  David Maughan (who worked at Perception and still works for Confluence) helped me prep the plug and we pulled a fiberglass mold off of it. The guys at Jackson Kayaks agreed to let me come in and run a few plastic prototypes on their oven, so that I would have a plastic prototype for testing.

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Foam Plug just after CNC’ing

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Sprayed and prepped for molding.

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Fiberglass Mold

First Plastic Bellyak! Molded at Jackson Kayaks with Goat (he probably molded your Jackson Kayak too)

This first plastic bellyak, which I originally called the ‘Octane,’ was crap.  The sidewalls were too steep, it was edgy in a ‘suddenly upside down’ kind of way, without the upside of higher performance. The body cavity was also too deep and I hadn’t yet nailed the body to boat interface.

It was a great learning experience. I learned how to prep a plug, make a fiberglass mold, and then mold a plastic kayak from that. I honed my skills and tested my resolve with hours upon hours of sanding. I took what worked and kept moving forward.

I was pursuing the ultimate ride on whitewater and often times knowing what doesn’t work is the best clue to figure out what does.

Evolution 8:

To start this sport I knew I needed two models:

A boat that was fun on all water, a general purpose, all around Bellyak. Like the Perception Dancer…(a classic design that would define the sport for over a decade.)

I took the plastic Octane and ‘moderately rapidly prototyped’ several more versions. Modified Versions: Octane without stern drain, Octane without foot cups, Octane with hull flattened, octane with new toe braces.

I also wanted to make a freestyle bellyak for surfing and playing every feature of the river, as the Big EZ prototypes were insanely fun for front surfing, and the planing hull made snapping into and out of eddies a feel like flying (what I imagine flying to be at least).

By now, I’d spent a few thousand hours building and testing, and I knew what needed to go into the production versions.

Frequency: the cruiser…based off the phat, the Sleek and the original Octane, with toe braces and hatch redesigned.

 

 

Play 35: planing hull, body area refined, depth refined, with a performance hull. Rocker Profile similar to a Session for easy spinning. Length of 7’7″

 

Play 45: I designed the Play 45 last, as we needed something that was sporty and fun like the Play 35, but with key changes to make it more forgiving and would accommodate a wider weight range. We designed this one off of the same hull as the Play 35 and added ten gallons of volume throughout the boat, increased the width by two inches, and made the body area wider and deeper. What we found was that the extra volume made the Play 45 very stable, and also accommodated a wide weight range.

Play45 Blue Marble hero

By asking questions, following the thrill of making the ride better, and not being afraid to make mistakes led to the creation of our current model lineup and birthed a new discipline into the paddling world!

 

All my old boats turned bellyaks.

HISTORY OF BELLYAK: EVOLUTION PART 2

***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.

Dust, Everywhere

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.

History: the meat locker where the bellyak prototypes were created.

The meat locker, complete with my foam man that I used for scale. We were good friends.

Kayaks, Halved

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.

All my old boats turned bellyaks

All my old boats turned bellyaks

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.

History: the Wave Sport EZ bellyak 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!

Perception 3D:

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.

Old school Adam Masters on a bellyak prototype

Throwback Adam Masters on a bellyak prototype

History of the bellyak: Yellow prototype History of the bellyak: Red prototype

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.

Too Long

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.

History of the bellyak: Green prototype

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.

Too Short

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.

The WTF bellyak prototype

Just Right!

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.

3 Versions

Purple bellyak prototype Surfing on an early bellyak

 

EJ, who lives behind the waterfall, was checking my boat out.

EJ, who lives behind the waterfall, was checking it out.

 

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.

 History of Bellyak: Evolution Part 3, Production

Understanding Shuttle Math and Other Paddling Tips

New year, new you! And you’re ready to take up bellyaking. Here’s how to have the best time on the water.

Read more

History of Bellyak: Evolution Part 1

Asking Better Questions

“Why do we only design boats with sprayskirts?”

Growing up in the small town of Easley, SC, from a family that made kayaks, all of my friends wanted me to teach them how to paddle. I didn’t enjoy this responsibility. First, I had to get them over the fear of the sprayskirt and then stand there while they awkwardly tried to roll. When they did swim I had to round up all of their gear and get their boat that was now full of water to shore and start over. I wanted to share my love of the river with my friends, but spending days on class II chasing gear just wasn’t any fun.

I based my teenage years and early twenties around paddling as much as possible, choosing where I went to college based on proximity to rivers. Around 2002 I became obsessive about hand paddling, as I loved the extra control and finesse required to do it well. Eventually I got pretty dang good at kayaking and started to get myself in situations where mistakes could be terminal.  I thought, what would it be like to be able to have this much fun without worrying about my friends having to potentially notify my next of kin?  I wanted to spend my time playing fiddle, and have my river time be somewhere happily between bored and scared to death. I wanted to make the Ocoee great again.

How can I have Class V thrills with Class III consequences?

I used to live on a small creek called Cane Creek in upstate SC. One day after a heavy rain, the small creek was almost out of it’s banks. I was itching to paddle it, but the overhanging rhododendron was creating a tunnel that was too small for a kayaker with a paddle. So…

“What if I laid on top of my boat and paddled with my hands?”

I put my sprayskirt on my Liquid Logic Gus, duct taped the tunnel together to keep water out, and put on an old pair of webbed gloves. I pushed off the shore, face first on top of my kayak into the class II creek and I felt like I was flying, on top of my kayak. I called it the bellyak in those first few moments and the name has stuck ever since.

How Can I Make This Better?

I needed to lower my center of gravity in the boat and eliminate the negative space. My dad and I  took my old Perception 3d and a jigsaw, cut off the top, added 36 cans of sprayfoam, covered it in plastic sheeting and duct tape now I had a bellyak that weighed 68 pounds bone dry and leaked slow enough to prove that it was awesome. Small rapids? Big again. The feeling of hand paddling, while feeling every current throughout my entire body, was mesmerizing. Everything felt completely new. In the process I had discovered how to combine freestyle kayaking with  swimming and the result re-ignited my love of paddling x’s 10.

How can I make another one for my friends?

At the time I was teaching my good friend (and still second best bellyaker in the world), Callan Welder how to kayak. Callan is an extremely gifted athlete, the kind of person who backflips off cliffs on skis for fun. But Callan got boogered up over being upside down underwater. He would paddle great and once he flipped forget where he was and swim. The first time Callan tried the bellyak, he learned more about reading and running rapids than he did in his previous two years of kayaking. Eliminating the sprayskirt created so much more confidence; he had no fear of flipping over so he relaxed and when you relax…you succeed. We could be on the same stretch of Class II but the freedom and versatility of the bellyak allowed me to interpret the river in ways never before imagined, and I didn’t have to worry about my friend flipping and swimming, since self-rescue is the name of the game for bellyak.

The earliest and roughest versions of the bellyaks were the original Perception 3D, a Perception Whip-It and an early Corran Addison design, the Black Attack. These worked well enough to prove the concept, but all filled with water (because the duct tape came off) and thus were nearly impossible to drain and thus, short lived.

Design Evolution of the Bellyak: Part One

Mainly because I wanted better boats for Callan and I, and I was going to quickly use up my existing kayaks (of which I paid for every one), I needed to figure out how to make multiple bellyaks out of one kayak. I had a vision of using the kayak as a mold and filling it with expandable foam. I would then create a plug that I could shape to work on the ‘body to boat’ interface and then I could fiberglass the foam in epoxy and glass, making a paddleable prototype. I called it “moderately rapid prototyping” or “why Adam has a huge stack of kayaks cut in half.” I taught myself how to do this  via the internet, my dad and my uncle Allen Stancil.  (Surfer Steve has a great blog about how to build your own surfboard)

Perception Phat

Working in my dads shop with the original Perception sign hanging in the back.

Working in my dads shop with the original Perception sign hanging in the back.

 

 

Bellyak Plug ready for shaping.

Plug ready for shaping.

Bellyak outfitted with scraps and ready to paddle!

Bellyak outfitted with scraps and ready to paddle!

Phat #1: 

This was my first time learning how to shape foam. I used all manner of tools to carve the plug, but the best was a paint removal disc on a right angle grinder. It made a huge dusty mess.

The Phat had a displacement hull which meant it had very little secondary stability as it tended to ‘roll’ without a break. This was not an ideal user experience as it tended to dump people right off. Secondary stability was going to be a key element for whitewater prone paddling. The extra bow volume was confidence inspiring, as it resurfaced very easily and stayed on top of the water.

Phat #2:

First version of toe braces, didn’t get paddled much, didn’t measure/account for 80% of bodyweight being in the front of the boat. Toe braces provided nice body to boat contact boat but limited the ability to hang off the back of the bellyak and ‘blast’ holes.

That crazy look in my eyes happens right before I test a boat for the first time

Their is nothing quite like paddling a prototype for the first time. Version 2:

Liquid Logic Session:

Awesome, super responsive hull for prone paddling, but I took too much volume out of body area and thus it functioned like a prone squirt boat. I could tell that the wide, flat planing hull provided excellent stability for prone paddling, and the defined edges made it super responsive to carving downstream.

Cutting up my favorite kayak of all time

 My favorite kayak of all time. We had a lot of good times together.

New bellyak, version 1 Prone Squirt Boat

New life, version 1 Prone Squirt Boat

Session Snow Sled with Parabolic Hull

Session Snow Sled with Parabolic Hull

What the Phat bellyak proved to me was that this was a great idea. I was running rivers IN CONTROL, with the exact same performance characteristics as my kayak: I could carve, edge, spin and catch eddies and boof. Granted, I was only paddling Class III, but the fun I was having was unreal. I knew there was work to do. The key part of the bellyak are the sidewalls: these are crucial for lateral stability (because you want to be able to carve without coming off the boat). The height/width/depth of the body pan was a variable that I knew needed refining. But the concept: the concept of paddling, on your stomach, with only your hands for propulsion through whitewater left me thinking “why hasn’t anyone done this before??” I had two things to refine: My skills at prototyping and executing my ideas so that I could test them, ask questions, and refine.

The Session showed me that a wide, planing hull was a foundation to work off of. The stability, ability to spin on a dime, and ability to achieve top hull speed quickly were all elements that enhanced the prone paddling experience. I had a lot to learn about volume distribution and fiberglassing, as well as figuring out how to create the ideal ‘body to boat’ interface.

There is nothing like paddling down the river with just a boat you designed and built between you and the water. These first prototypes let me know what was possible. But now it was winter 2010, so I got to work in earnest, knowing spring was coming, and with it, more belly kayaking.

I had learned enough to know that my idea was worth patenting, so in December of 2010, I filed for Provisional Patent. The provisional patent was later converted to a Utility Patent: you can read it here.

Next Chapter: History of Belly: Evolution Part . Rise of the Freestyle Bellyak, mountains of foam dust, and an old meat locker.

 

 

New Year Paddlesports Giveaway!

Astral Shoes

Top 12 Gift Ideas for Water Lovers

It may feel like the holidays are still very far away. Or you may be hyper-ventilating into a brown paper bag because you have to start holiday shopping. Don’t worry though – we’re here with the best ideas for the water lover in your life! Get your gift list out and happy shopping!

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Kayaking vs Bellyaking

Bellyak Versus Kayak

They may look alike from a distance and share the same habitat, but how does a Bellyak compare to a kayak?

Read more

Adam Masters during the Ocoee River Race

2018 Ocoee River Race

By Adam Masters,

The middle Ocoee in Copper Hill, TN is one of the most classic class III runs in the whole country featuring continuous fun rapids, tons of playspots and an easy roadside shuttle. I have been kayaking the middle Ocoee since 1994, and have run it hundreds of times. I developed my love of hand paddling on the Ocoee and as soon as I had the first plastic bellyaks in 2012 I haven’t looked at my kayak again.

Read more

Kids and bellyaks

Bellyak and the Boy Scout National Aquatics Conference

By Adam Masters,

Let’s face it, the places we get to go are awesome. Meeting water lovers around the country and seeing all the places people play is a great perk of owing a watersports company.  This year, Bellyak was a title sponsor of the National Aquatic Conference in Islamorada Florida at the National Sea Scout Base, which brought together over 100 Aquatic Directors from around the country to discuss best practices, the future of scouting and to see the newest gear in watersports.

Bellyak at the National Aquatics Conference

The National Sea Scout Base

This Sea Base runs multi-day sailing trips, teaches Scuba, and allows scouts from all over the world to experience the beauty and adventure of the Florida Keys. I took an early flight to Miami, rented a sweet Toyota minivan, drove to the Southeastern Shipping Terminal where I picked up two Bellyak Frequencys, easily loaded them in the back of the van, and headed south. I arrived and it was go time, where we all took turns paddling the bellyaks and discussing applications for scout camps. After dinner we saw a presentation about the future of scouting and how to get more families outdoors to teach them the love of camping together. This is something we’ve always known with paddlesports: it’s more fun when you share it with people you love!

Little girl on a bellyak

Why Bellyak? What makes it a good craft for Boy Scout camps?

  • Bellyak combines the best elements of swimming and boating. It is easy for the youngest of campers to develop confidence and plenty challenging to engage the older campers. They also allow the less confident swimmers to gain confidence.
  • Made in the USA and will last basically forever.
  • Innovative and versatile: from lakes to the ocean and beyond, prone, kneeling or seated

Kids and bellyaks

Looking for something new for your camp?

Do you have a a scout camp or summer camp that would benefit from bellyaks? Contact us today, we’ll send you our camp pricing!

For more info, check out our Camp Games blog: BELLYAKS AND SUMMER CAMP: FUN WITH A PURPOSE

Camp PossAbility

Summer Update!

Holy Summer! Where did the time go? There are still several weeks of wonderful weather ahead of us and we have news to share with you!

Mother Goose

Intro to Whitewater Course

Our Intro to Whitewater Courses were a hit this year and we’ve taken everyone from 9 to 72 years old down the river. These classes are a great way to experience Bellyak for the first time and perfect for those with no whitewater experience. Our intuitive design makes whitewater safe, approachable and most importantly FUN. Plus, what other sport can you learn directly from the inventor and founder?

We have a few dates left for 2018 and we are crediting the price of the class towards a new bellyak!

Camp PossAbility

Bellyak at Camp PossAbility

For the third year in a row Bellyaks has partnered with Camp PossAbility, a Camp for young adults with disabilities. For the past two years we’ve donated a Bellyak in exchange for bellyak ambassador William Blakely to attend. This camp relies on private donations and sponsors, and is put on by Lauren Harmison. If you’d like to donate to Camp PossAbility click here 👉

You can also check out more by reading their blog post here!

Kids Paddle

We’ve always known how much kids love prone paddling, they get it right away! After having a really fun photo shoot in June with a bunch of kids on the French Broad, we reached out to Buncombe County Parks and Recreation and partnered with them to do an event at Lake Julian with the Salvation Army’s Boys and Girls Club. We had thirty young adults come out for an afternoon of bellyaking. Everyone had a blast, again showing that our craft, designed for making whitewater more accessible and exciting, is the easiest, safest and most intuitive craft for folks new to paddlesports. For 2019 we are looking to expand this program nationwide with partners who are willing to give back to their local community. Got an idea for a great partner? 👉

Seconds Sale

Factory Seconds Sale

We have a handful of bellyaks that have slight cosmetic defects to the graphics or have one off colors. This is your best deal of the year on bellyaks, grab one while supplies last! We just have a few of each model available to ship immediately. For the BEST deal, take our Intro to Whitewater Class and have your bellyak hand delivered by the founder! Just click ‘local pickup’ at checkout.

Bellyak Group

Bellyak Owners Group

Already a Bellyak Owner? Join our Team Bellyak FB Group for more in depth discussion on paddling technique, meetups, and to find other Bellyak enthusiasts!

Looking forward to Fall and 2019!

We are traveling to the National Boy Scouts Aquatic Conference in Islamorada, Florida in September and then back again in November for the American Canoe Association’s Adaptive Paddlesports Conference where we will be presenting the Bellyak’s application to adaptive paddling.

Where would you like to see us in 2019? Send us an email or message us on Facebook and let us know – we are planning now!

Thanks for reading and for supporting our growth. We appreciate you!

Adam Masters

 

 

 

Adam Masters
Bellyak Founder