Five Reasons Bellyaks are Perfect for Lake Life

 

While we often post images of paddling whitewater and exploring the aquatic world face first, the Bellyak is a phenomenal craft for the lake. Anyone who has paddled a kayak or a SUP knows that getting a heavy craft from the car or boat into the water, and then trying to get in or get on is quite a challenge.

The Bellyak is perfect when you want to swim around with your friends, have fun and get some exercise on the side.

Easy to carry, easy to get on, lightweight, and super fun.

1: Swim on, Swim Off

A perfect platform for snorkeling, or just getting in to cool off.

 

2: Power Lounging

Floating lounge chair, aquatic tanning platform

3: For the Dog who Has it All

Durable EVA pad and rotomolded construction designed for the rigors of whitewater holds up to dog claws.

 

4: Easy to Transport

In a car, on a car, on top of the pontoon, Bellyak’s lightweight portability makes getting them to the water a snap.

 

5: For Kids of All Ages

 

 

That Actually Looks Fun and Other Things Overheard

“He who dies with the most toys, still dies. He who has the most fun, wins.”

-a smart person

Bellyaking on the Ocoee River

Things Overheard

 

1: That actually looks fun

I’ve heard this one countless times after surfing a wave and smiling my face off. Of course it’s fun. Why would we do it otherwise? It’s just plain fun. Just add water.

 

2: Does it hurt your neck? (This is way more comfortable than I imagined!)

It’s natural to assume that lying prone and looking forward would hurt your neck. If you are lying flat on your stomach and arching your back to look up your neck could become fatigued. However, we’ve spent countless hours designing the ergonomics so that the ‘nipple to knee’ ratio is just right: A consistent downward curve from your chest to your knees, keeping hips lower than ribs and knees lower than hips. What does this equal? Once people lie prone on the Bellyak we hear them say “this is way more comfortable than I imagined!!”

Consistent Curve from Chest to Knees=Comfort

3: Do you make one not for disabled people?

We do a lot of events for differently-abled folks. Differently-abled, disabled, handicapped, the Bellyak happens to require little or no adaptation in order to be used by people in wheelchairs or with other disabilities. If you can lie on your stomach and move your arms, even a little bit, you can Bellyak. There are very few pieces of sports equipment that aren’t specially adapted for the user. This is what makes the Bellyak so unique: the same piece of equipment can be used by all people, regardless of ability. No special equipment required. One boat to float them all.

4: I already know how to roll a kayak.

That’s like saying you already know how to drive a car so you don’t need a truck. Granted, if you love kayaking (I do too, read our history here) then you may already have your vehicle of choice. If you love the water and want to experience the thrill and excitement of seeing a river from an entirely new perspective or just want an incredibly portable and lightweight human powered watercraft for any body of water, then try the Bellyak.

5: Can you stand on it?

With the advent of Stand Up Paddleboarding capturing the hearts and minds of the world over the past 7 years, it’s a natural question. In order to make a craft stable enough to stand on, it has to be fairly wide. In order to effectively paddle prone, the craft has to be sufficiently narrow. The Bellyak is capable of being stood on by kids, but is designed to be paddled prone.

6: What about your face?

Face first down a river sounds like a great way to keep your dentist employed. However, the Bellyak’s are all over seven feet long, with plenty of bow out in front of you. The boat extends well in front of your body, protecting your pearly whites.

Plenty of protection between you and the rocks.

What have you heard? Send us a message and let us know!

 

Tips for Spring Time Paddling

The sun is out, the grass needs to be mowed, and there is enough pollen in the air to have to use your windshield wipers. While it’s tempting jump straight into the water after being cooped up all winter, there are some crucial tips to remember before your first trip of the spring.

 

Pre-Trip:

Double check your bellyak…are all the handles tight? Is the pad adhered on all sides? No glue is perfect  (though ours is pretty close). If your pad is peeling up, take the time to make sure the boat is dried out and cleaned as much as possible, and use contact cement or our favorite, 3M Super 77. Spray both sides, allow to dry until tacky, then press together. Did you store your boat in the weather all winter? Need a new pad? Order one here.

Drain plug:

Some of you store your bellyak with the drainplug open. Is it still there? Screwed in? Your boat will paddle MUCH better if not full of water. If you are missing a drain plug, contact us. We’ll take care of you. In a pinch? A piece of ducttape over the hole will do.

Dress for the water temp, not the air temp:

Here in the southeast, springtime temps can vary more than 30 degrees between day and night. There can be a dramatic fluctuation between sun and shade as well. Don’t make the mistake of being hot at the put in because you are in a sunny parking lot…further downstream around the next bend could be a whole lot cooler! I wear a drysuit with thin layers underneath for maximum spring time comfort, or a 3/2 wetsuit. It’s better to be hot at the put in, since you will invariably cool off once you are in the water.

Speaking of water temp: it takes a while for most rivers to warm up past the fifties. Fifty four degree water is extremely chilly. If the nights are still regularly in the 30s and 40s, it will take a while for the water temp to catch up. Check sites such as this for water temp: https://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/uv?03451500

Length of Trip:

If you’ve been working out and/or staying active all winter, then good on ya. If you’ve been like most people and only worked out the first two weeks of January, then take it easy on your first trip. Bellyaking is strenuous and uses a lot of energy. We suggest having an easy ‘break in’ run where you can get your arms and bellyak shoulders warmed back up. Check out this blog.

 

Post Trip:

The takeout will almost always be colder than the put in. We suggest a warm layer for when you get off the river. Our favorite? The Recover Brand Bellyak Hoody. Wear it commando style post paddling. Just remember to leave it in your takeout car.

Food and Beverage:

Leave your future self something when you leave the car at the takeout. You may not be hungry now, but you will be after paddling. Our favorites? Kettle cooked BBQ potato chips and any number of the great beers from breweries around Asheville NC. Sure it’s not the healthiest choice like cucumber kale slaw, but we believe in increasing your activity level in order to enjoy all of the deliciousness life has to offer. That’s the best part about owning a Bellyak: get fit, have fun, eat chips, repeat.

 

See you on the water!

Introducing the Single Use Plastic Bellyak

In our never ending quest to provide the best value and outdoor experience to our customers we are proud to introduce our newest product:

New Product Announced!

The challenge of making such a quality product for so many years is that our customers from 2013 are still paddling the same bellyak, making a happy customer but doing nothing to help our bottom line. Our rotomolded polyethylene Bellyaks just simply last too long. We switched to a new molder in 2016 and the situation got even worse. Our quality went through the roof once we partnered with Liquid Logic and the folks at BIG Adventures. Our new models are of such high quality that they will literally last for decades.

This isn’t acceptable. The cost of acquiring a new customer is one of the biggest variable expenses of a new business. Almost all successful companies strive to figure out how to sell more stuff to the same customer. Brands get you ‘hooked’ and then next thing you know you are buying the latest accessory pouch for your $300 cooler and wearing a $30 trucker hat.

We here at Bellyak believe the experience of paddling should be first and foremost, and we strive to simplify the interface between man and water to focus on the experience, whereby the product is merely a means to an end. This is great for you, but means we don’t sell multiple things to the same customer. In order to combat this and to do our part to help climate change, we proudly introduce:

THE SINGLE USE PLASTIC BELLYAK

Gone are the days of having to paddle the same boat every weekend. Gone are the issues of where to store your bellyak when you aren’t paddling. Use it once and chuck it. Better yet, throw it directly in the ocean. It will float out to the great garbage patch and mentor microplastics. The large size will insure that it doesn’t breakdown, ever.

ON TREND

Multiple studies have confirmed that millenials interest in paddlesports lasts as long as it takes to get that great pose for the ‘gram. It’s all about the likes, and durable products are for baby boomers. The SINGLE USE PLASTIC BELLYAK (SUPB) lasts approximately 2 hours. We have done extensive testing to show that this is the sweet spot: lasts long enough to get in place for a great pic, but is ready to be discarded before the next pose worthy adventure.

“We are always watching trends and we feel that the introduction of the SUPB will revolutionize the way people paddle, in much the same way that prone river paddling has done for learning whitewater” states creator Burt Stacherton, and the visionary behind the Single Use Plastic Bellyak Movement. “We hope to make this an industry standard, and increase the turn rate of our customer base to grow jobs nationwide.”

Single Use Plastic Bellyaks are now available worldwide.

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Oh, also:

 

April Fools!

Published on April 1st 2019

Adam Masters during the Ocoee River Race

7 Principles of Efficient Bellyak Paddling

The bellyak looks easy. Just lie on your stomach and paddle with your hands. No problem. No need to pay attention to the details, you got this! Ten minutes in you are exhausted and blaming the boat for a fault in your skills.  In order to master the craft and minimize fatigue there are techniques to prolong your fun. The  seven principles of proper bellyak paddling will help you get the most out of your paddling time.

7 Principles of Efficient Bellyak Paddling

Principle #1: TRIM:  Proper body position and posture.

The Bellyak is ‘front wheel drive’ and made to glide through the water. The goal of proper trim is to create the most efficient position for effortless bellyaking.

Proper Trim is when you are centered on the Bellyak, neither too far forward or too far back, as shown below.

Just right, centered in the bellyak

Too far Forward: Stern is too far out of water. This makes paddling straight very difficult.

Too Far Back for Paddling *

*In the more advanced skills, surfing river waves requires the rider shift their weight towards the back of the bellyak to be in a position as shown in the picture above. This will raise the bow and make it easier to surf. Therefore, for the majority of paddling, the neutral position, centered in the boat, is most effective.

*The handles are used to reposition  and are not for hanging on while going downstream.

Principle #2: Proper Paddling Strokes

The Forward stroke is an alternating, thumb down sweep stroke. Imagine the breast stroke and alternating arms. The forward stroke reduces shoulder fatigue over doing a deeper crawl style stroke. Move forward effectively by imagining pulling the boat past your hand rather than pushing the water backwards. Reach forward, catch the water, and pull yourself past your hand, releasing your stroke once it passes your shoulder.

Reach forward, Thumb Down for the catch phase of the forward stroke

Alternating Thumb Down Sweep Stroke

 

Principle #3: Combination Strokes:

Hand paddling allows both of your hands to be used simultaneously.  Practice spinning in place by using a combination of a forward stroke on one side and a reverse stroke on the other. This will help you become familiar with how the bellyak moves through the water and is the quickest and most effective way to change the angle of your downstream trajectory. Keep the boat flat as you spin.

Energy Conservation Tip: if you veer off course, it’s often easier to work with spin by continuing to spin back around til you are pointed in the direction you want to travel, then continue on your path.

Left Hand Reverse, Right Hand Forward, Spin Left

Always remember to smile!

Principle #4: Secondary Stability: Learning to Trust your Edges

The bellyak has excellent secondary stability. When you lean left or right the boat will support you ‘on edge.’ Learning to trust your edges will make learning moving water skills much easier, as you will be able to confidently enter and exit eddies with proper lean.

 

Practice finding your edges in an area of calm water

Lean over as far as possible to learn to trust your edges

Principle #5 Front and Rear Rudder:

Now that you have the basic body position, the forward and combination strokes along with right/left lean you can start adding in rudder strokes to help keep you on course as you move forward.

Static Front Rudder

As you are moving forward, if the bellyak starts to drift off course, you can use your opposite hand to help it correct back to center. You place your hand forward just as if you were reaching to do a forward stroke but instead of being ‘thumb down’ it will be ‘thumb up’ as the picture shows. Practice this in flat water by generating some speed and as the boat glides practice combining the lean you learned above with a static rudder. As you glide forward, using your right hand will cause you to turn right, and vice versa.

Always LOOK where you WANT to GO, not at what you want to avoid.

Principle #7: Work with the Water

Using the water to your advantage will insure you have the best time possible.  Strength will never compensate for a lack of technique. Looking where you want to go and allowing the water to take you there, with strategically placed strokes to guide you will work much more effectively than muscling your way through.

The most effective advice is to SLOW DOWN. If you are veering off course, slow down, use a combination stroke, and get back on course. In river bellyaking, you are most often using combination strokes to position your boat, allowing the water to carry you where you are going, and then applying strategically placed forward strokes to enter/exit eddies and accelerate through/over river features.

Remember: don’t fight the water, enjoy the experience, and relax. To go fast, slow down!

 

Adam Masters going slow to go fast in the 10th Annual Ocoee Race

 

Is there a specific skill you would like to learn? Send us a message and we’ll create a blog to answer your questions!

Thank you to the American Canoe Association for providing the photos and supporting the development of the Prone River Paddling Curriculum. If you are not a member of the ACA, join today!

Vintage bellyaking

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

img_0899-jpg

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.

 

 

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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