Bellyaking on the French Broad

Where to Bellyak: French Broad Section 9

Standing in the shadow of so much gnar, Section 9 of the French Broad is often overlooked as a beginners-only run. Only 45 minutes from Asheville and with a quick shuttle, Section 9 is good at almost all levels. It is a popular run for SUP, bellyak, and all other manner of river craft, due to the year round flows, beautiful scenery, and good play. The multitude of read and run rapids don’t hurt either.

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What Heretical Ideas Are You Willing to Embrace?

re-posted with permission from the author

I love motorcycles. I’ve spoken at the Motorcycle Industry Council, I’ve met with the majority of the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and have visited with over 100 dealers in recent years. But the motorcycle industry is one of many that’s battling a stagnant or shrinking market, and the only solution is for it to quit one or more commonly-accepted practices.

Industry experts and veterans hate to hear advice like this. Try telling a scratch golfer that you think one way to make that sport grow again is to double the size of golf holes. “Outrageous!” s/he is likely to exclaim, without suggesting an alternative solution to shrinking year after year after year.

The problem with these industries is that existing players like things the way they are. Sure, they’d prefer more growth, but not at the price of changing long standing practices.

For example, the only thing keeping the ski industry afloat is the rise of snowboarding. This was not the result of innovative practices on the part of ski industry OEMs, but rather the disruptive influence of upstarts like Burton, which popularized snowboards.

To put it another way, the practice Burton “quit” was to stop making sliding devices in two pieces. Creating a single board—which sounds like a simple innovation—had tremendous ripple effects. It provided more of a surfing experience, completely changed the athlete’s stance, which changed their clothing needs, and also shifted the age and mindset of new participants. Plus, to be brutally honest, it probably kept numerous resorts from dying.

My problem with such industries is that they’d rather iterate than innovate. Instead of disrupting their own traditions, they tinker around with modest, almost negligible changes. Engines get a little more powerful or efficient. Tires get a little larger. Nothing much changes from one year to the next, and such industries continue to stagnate.

For example, I have friends and clients who have stopped attending certain trade shows because the amount of innovation from one year to the next is virtually zero. In some industries, like technology, you can’t afford to take your eye off the ball for even three weeks; in stagnant industries, you can coast for a year or two, and it doesn’t really matter.

If this sounds familiar, forget about all that nonsense at the edges and ask yourself two questions:

  1. What long standing practices are we willing to quit?
  2. What heretical ideas are we willing to embrace?

Without bold answers to these questions, your future will look very much like your recent past. For example, in 2007 the motorcycle industry sold about one million new bikes. This past year, I think the number was somewhere south of 400,000. Do the math… that’s simply not a sustainable trend.

David Nour helps leaders connect with their teams by using the right strategy, pictures, and words. His tenth book is Co-Create: How Your Business Will Profit from Innovative and Strategic Collaboration. He is also a popular speaker.

Why I love the Play 35

I just love it, so no more stupid questions


The reason I love the Play 35 is the same reason Bill Wunderlich, 2 time Tennessee State heavy weight wrestling champion loves the Play 45:  it just fits. When I first cruised on a Bellyak I made it down the Class 4 waters we were paddling with a huge smile on my face. I’m sure that was the only pretty thing that day because I had only a taste of what was possible. Now, 2 years later, my bellyak and I  have been getting down right nasty. While the barrier to entry is low on a bellyak, the level that you can take it athletically seems to be limitless at this point. Taking my game past the point of river running and basic belly surfing required me to tap into my friends named agility, strength and finesse.


Let’s Talk About Feelings

This is what I really love. I love how agile the Play 35 is. If you give it a little nudge you can go places together. The boat is designed to be stable enough to inspire confidence but with an agility derived from the advances in hull design of modern freestyle kayaks. The ample rocker allows the boat to spin and pivot with ease. I knew it had potential because on my first ride it spun me and took me places I never intended on going.  Once I made the commitment to work together with my Play 35, I was hooked.

Bellyaking on the Nantahala River

sorry for the clarity, it was taken with a flip phone

Confidence and communion with the river is something I have been able to achieve in a greater way than I ever could in my kayak. Perhaps it’s because my body covers more surface area on the water. Perhaps it’s how I”m able to respond to the river rather than just reacting to every single current that comes at me.

Going Fast Sitting Still

Nothing says New-Age spiritual like surfing a wave in a bellyak. One of my favorite pastimes is surfing at staging eddy on the Ocoee, watching creekers in full faces practice their roll in the eddy next to me. And as I write this I can’t help but laugh a little because in a few years our experience today will seem so underwhelming by the standards of what will be created tomorrow.

Like jumping curbs back in your huffy bike glory days thinking you were all that therewas in the world only to learn that mountain biking was already a thing and you were living a lie.



I have to admit I used to be a little bit of a freak about getting a workout in and I’ve always dreamt of legitimately having fun and being fit at the same time. I like ball sports but they still hurt when I’m tired, but have you heard of Bellyak Fitness? My idea of Bellyak Fitness is taking my bellyak whitewatering and playing as hard as I can only to find out when I am done that I am completely exhausted, my hip flexors are more open than that can of worms you opened when you asked your grandma how she was today, and my arms and abs feel like I’ve been on that crossfit diet. All the while I was just having fun.



Better than the local public pool

Really there’s not much I love more than river running on the bellyak which is something almost all of us can do whether it’s on class II or Class IV. I love many water sports, but the one that makes me giggle the most at the same time challenge me is bellyak. Aside from swimming, it’s the closest I have been to really being a part of the water.

Racing in the 2017 Ocoee River Rac



Being straight silly because that’s what life and sport is about





Bellyaks vs Prone Paddle Boards

Why go prone, you ask? Why lay down and use your hands when you can sit, stand or kneel and use a paddle? Why get water in your face and subject yourself to such a workout? Read on.

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Chris Barlow and Adam Masters on the way the Nantahala Falls

Bellyak at the National Paddlesports Conference 2017

Last weekend was the National Paddlesports Conference at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in Wesser, NC. What an honor it was to be there! In 2015, ‘Prone River Paddling’ was adopted under the leadership and guidance of Robin Pope, multi-discipline instructor and mentor. What does this mean? It means Bellyaking officially became a discipline with the American Canoe Association. We also now have standardized the instructional arc of bellyak so that others can follow in our footsteps. More prone river paddling love to be shared!

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Ocoee Race 2017 Recap

The 2017 Ocoee River Race, sponsored by the Tennessee Valley Canoe Club, had over 130 racers this year.  This is a challenging downriver race, requiring  hundreds of small moves to stay in the fast water to make it down the 4+ mile Class III course. Team Bellyak represented with our own category and five racers this year.

How to Race the Ocoee

To post a fast time, it’s not so much about being fast in the rapids, as much as it is about having the smoothest line between the end of one rapid and the beginning of the next. Each rapid has multiple ways to run, with a fast ‘race line’ through every feature. Racers are released in one minute intervals to race against the clock.

Adam Masters getting ready to bellyak in the 2017 Ocoee Race

Men’s Hand Paddle Race

Adam Masters – creator of Bellyak – raced twice: first in the men’s kayak hand paddle division (racing on the bellyak Frequency), and then in the bellyak category (racing on a Play 35). Here’s what he had to say about the experience:

“Every year I’ve raced in men’s hand paddle (as that is the closest category to bellyak), and I like to pretend to hurt people’s feelings, or at least make them realize we aren’t messing around. I’m wearing webbed gloves, and they are using large plastic hand paddles. I won the category in 2012, and since then we’ve created our own category. For the past three years I’ve come in right behind the hand paddle master of the southeast, Keith Sprinkle. Plus, I just want to race bellyak in as many categories  as possible.

The Frequency is the fastest boat in the bellyak lineup, at 8’7″. The flip up skeg is designed to work in whitewater, and the Ocoee is a rocky, shallow river – a perfect place to put it to the test. The skeg allows the boat to stay on course in the squirrelly water between rapids, thus making it much more efficient to paddle quickly during the transitions.  After racing back-to-back with and without the skeg, I’m convinced of it’s effectiveness for going fast in whitewater.

My first run was clean with only a few mistakes, I spun out in the middle of Broken Nose by overshooting the race line, and then got stuck between a big raft trip in Double Suck that I didn’t get past until half a mile later at Double Trouble. The next part of the race are the doldrums – a half mile of flatwater where dreams are crushed, reasons for living are questioned, and you come face to face with the truth of how much you did or did not train for this type of output. For whitewater paddlers, flatwater is akin to uphill paddling. For the past year I have been swimming, mountain unicycling, running and paddling more regularly than any year prior, and I felt as strong as I ever have during the race.  I stayed fast all the way through to the end, and nailed the finish move at Powerhouse, which is deceptively tricky if you’re not prepared for where the finish line raft is.”

Adam finished in third place for Men’s Hand Paddle Kayak, with a time of 39:15.

The rest of Team Bellyak had start times  50 minutes after Adam (since he was the only one racing two categories). As soon as he was done with race lap number one and partially recovered from the lactic acid overdose and weird tracers he was seeing around everything, he jumped in the van and headed back to the top.

“I had strategically placed an ice cold Dr. Pepper in a glass bottle, along with some more traditional recovery foods like Skittles. Strategic soda and Skittles intake can be performance enhancing. There happened to be a car wreck on the two lane road back to the top, so I sat for nearly an hour blasting Rihanna on the half of a radio station that one gets in Copperhill, TN and cheering on the rest of Team Bellyak as they paddled by.”

Bellyak Category Race

There were five competitors in the bellyak category race – Adam Masters, Jamie MacLeod, Bill Wunderlich, Corey Topping and Sarah Neal. Adam and Jamie races on Play 35s, and the rest chose Play 45s. The race according to Adam:

“My second run was clean. I made no mistakes and stayed steady throughout the run. However, the absence of the skeg was very noticeable as I had to put substantially more energy to keep the boat on course. I was mildly delirious as the end of the run and grateful for all of Team Bellyak standing on the bridge above the finish line cheering for me!

For 2017, we decided to recognize ourselves and make our category as awesome as possible. Our prizemaster this year was Bill Wunderlich, who had assembled the best assortment of prizes for the Bellyak category.”


First Place: Adam MastersPrize: Webbed belt, Aquaseal, two pound bag of ‘America’ Skittles, 24 Ounce engraved beer stein.

Time: 41:42

Second: Jamie MacLeod Prize: $50 PF Changs gift card, resealable bag of original Skittles

Time: 43:44

Third: Corey Topping Prize: Large spray bottle of Rain X, two pound bag of ‘America’ Skittles

Time: 49:01 (missed takeout raft, had to paddle back upstream)

Fourth: Sarah Neal Prize: $25 Barnes and Noble Gift Card, two 12′ NRS Straps

Time: 49:02 (missed takeout raft, had to paddle back upstream)

Fifth: Bill Wunderlich Prize: ENO Twilights, 1986 Pro Tec Helmet, open bag of used skittles

Time: 51:02 (only his sixth trip ever down the Ocoee, and he will be in the medals next year)


Jamie MacLeod celebrating the Ocoee race

This sums up how we feel about racing the Ocoee, and shows Bill’s awesome helmet prize.

Team Bellyak at the Ocoee Race

We had the most fun! Especially that guy in the back.

7Figure Dry Suit

Gear Review: Immersion Research 7Figure Dry Suit

We used to think dry suits were in the realm of the privileged and sponsored. Something you got when you graduated gnar school. A luxury for the fortunate, an unattainable holy grail of wintertime warmth for Southeastern boaters. What’s wrong with a farmer john wetsuit and a drytop? I mean, is there a difference between that and say, the 7Figure Immersion Research Dry Suit?

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H20 Dreams

Bellyak Rental Locations

So you’ve heard about bellyaking and want to give it a go? You can rent one for a day! North, South, East or West – there is a location for you. Even if you’re across the pond with our Fish and Chip loving friends. Perfect for trying out new rivers, treating family and friends visiting, or just trying it out before you walk away with your very own Frequency bellyak. You can find a full list of Bellyak Rental Locations HERE, and below are a couple of our new friends. Happy prone paddling!

Lake Junaluska

Lake Junaluska Rec Hut

Where the mountains meet the lake. If you’re in Western North Carolina, you literally can’t leave without paying a visit to Lake Junaluska. Not only are there amazing views, but a beautiful lake to hone your bellyaking skills on. For more info:

91 N Lakeshore Dr, Waynesville, NC 28785
(800) 222-4930


H20 Dreams

H20 Dreams

Enjoy a 5 hour beginner course on bellyaking (3 hours on the water). Are you new to moving water and want a fun, safe and exciting way to to get on the water and learn? Then Bellyak can take you there. Seasoned expert bored of the same old river? Bellyak will show you an entirely new perspective and challenge in a brand new way. Ages 6 and up! For more info:

435 E Main St, Saluda, NC 28773

(828) 767-7109

Mike's Marine Supply

Mike’s Marine

For our Michigan friends, Mike’s Marine Supply is family owned and operated store offering great discounts on quality marine accessories and fun rentals on Lake St. Clair.

24910 Jefferson Ave, St Clair Shores, MI 48080
+1 586-778-3200


Saluda Outfitters

Saluda Outfitters

A local fave, Saluda Outfitters is super easy to find at 435 Main in Saluda at the intersection of Ozone Drive and Highway 176. Just look UP on the hill and you will find this treasure of a store at the top.

435 Main Street, Saluda, NC 28773


For a map of our bellyak rental locations, please explore below!

Exiting the water with a Layla PFD

Gear Review: Astral Layla PFD

Prone paddling in whitewater requires specific gear to maximize the experience. For most aquatic recreation, the PFD is something that is worn if something goes wrong. You hope to not need it. For paddling a bellyak, the PFD becomes part of the user experience because it provides the interface between body and boat. Therefore, a properly fitted and comfortable PFD is a must.

There are many PFD’s that will work. Anything with a relatively flat/consistent thickness front that fits well, will function just fine. But there is one PFD that stands out above all others:

The Astral Layla

The Astral Layla

The Astral Layla is a women’s vest made to fit and support a womans body. But the flat front, kapok foam inside, and multiple ways to adjust make it just right for prone paddling. You see, a bulky vest made for kayaking may work perfectly for our upright butt-boating brethren, but we depend on our lifejacket not just for flotation, for prone paddling comfort as well.

The Astral Layla on a bellyaker

Key Features of the Layla

  • Shoulder adjustments: Finally! Someone realized that not every torso is created equally. This feature helps properly position the PFD in the perfect location for prone paddling. It also makes it an ideal vest for teaching, because this one feature alone allows it to be custom fit to a wide size range of paddlers.

Exiting the water with a Layla PFD


  • Side Zip: Another great feature. The side zip makes the vest much easier to get on and off, especially when your shoulders are sore from a long day on the river. It also helps accommodate every shape human.

Showing the Astral Layla's front zip

  • Front Pocket: Because you always need a place to store snacks/spare key/cellphone in waterproof case.

Waiting to bellyak with the Astral Layla

Designed for a Woman, strong enough for a man, and perfect for bellyaking!

For more on the Astral Layla and information on where to buy, check it out online:

Working out on the bellyak

Bellyak Workout – From the Perspective of a Client

By Sara Bliss Weidemann, Team Bellyak’s fitness instructor

Last week I brought one of my personal training clients and her son to workout on my Frequency Bellyak for the first time.  Gretchen has been my client since June 2016 and we train consistently two times per week. Our workouts are strength based and typically full body. In the past year, Gretchen has done it all: TRX bands, battle ropes, tractor tires, resistance bands, kettlebells, barbells and more!  As trainers, a part our job is to make sure our clients enjoy the workouts and that they don’t get bored. With the Bellyak, it’s a win-win!

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