They may look alike from a distance and share the same habitat, but how does a Bellyak compare to a kayak?
Bellyak—The next big Summer Paddle Sport
Thank you to Back Country Skiing Canada! for this rad review of our Bellyaks! Watch the video below, and check out the FULL REVIEW HERE.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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
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
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!
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!
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!
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? 👉
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 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.
Thanks for reading and for supporting our growth. We appreciate you!
Last month we hosted the second annual Bellyak Race for a Cause, as part of the Mountain Sports Festival. Despite the liquid sunshine that appeared just as we paddled away, it was a great success! We had 13 participants from 7 states and ages from 8 to awesome.
The Pollick family represented with their three kids, and we had two newlyweds on a bellyak honeymoon. William Blakely, adaptive paddler and Bellyak Ambassador, drove up with his mom, Tammy Lea, to compete for his second time. The kids race saw the hottest competition with a brand new Astral Otter as the grand prize. Bets were made, hands were shaken, and we lined up on at French Broad Outfitters – Hominy Creek to begin!
Since it is a Race for a Cause, our Cause this year is Our Voice. Our Voice are a local non-profit in pursuit of a community free of sexual violence. Our VOICE serves all individuals in Buncombe County affected by sexual assault and abuse, through counseling, advocacy and education. We raised $114 to help support their cause.
Future bellyak Events
About our Campers
Camp PossAbility and the bellyak
“I like using the bellyak at Camp PossAbility because I get to be in the water without having to rely on someone for help. I get to be out of my wheelchair and can still move around! Being paralyzed, I was cautious at first about getting on the bellyak, but soon realized they were very stable. The bellyak gave me a good workout maneuvering around on the water. [It] was like I was floating on clouds and I didn’t want to get off.”
This Year at Camp PossAbility
The beauty of bellyaking is it’s simplicity. No paddle, no cumbersome sprayskirt, no extra gear. Just you and the boat. While it’s a possibility this is all you may need, most of us don’t live on a remote island in the middle of the desert which would allow such shenanigans. Instead, here’s a list of essential gear for bellyaking; gear we have tested, proven, and use on a regular basis.
Let’s start from the bottom up:
Sure, the flip flops you wear in the shower at the gym will work, but for bellyaking – especially in moving water/whitewater – you’ll want something more sturdy. Old running shoes work fine, but if you are looking for the most effective footwear, then you’ll want to use Astral Footwear. Astral is known for their PFD’s (more on that in a moment) but they make some of the best aquatic adventure shoes around, that also look stylish!
My personal favorites are the Astral Hiyak:
This shoe was built for whitewater bellyaking, if ever a shoe was. The padded ankle, velcro strap, and incredibly tactile soles work amazing on rocky, wet, or uneven terrain.
A less tactical option but still just as functional is the Astral Brewer:
These do double duty and can go from prone paddling to seated drinking with very little time in between since these dry so quickly.
You probably don’t think about the back of your legs very often but let me tell you that you will once you have a solid calf sunburn. Let my experience be the guide: cover your legs. Even in the hottest environments, a pair of bike tights or non-cotton yoga pants will do wonders to keep your skin from turning three shades of red.
I wear boardshorts over my wetsuit, though I’ve heard that this gets you made fun of on the coast. It’s quite a practical reason: we are around rocks all the time and rocks abrade fabric. Have you ever heard of tearing your wetsuit on sand? I didn’t think so. After all, you are paddling a bellyak, so do you really care about what people think? Exactly. You be you.
My recommendation? Always don a rash guard/long sleeve T shirt. Again, this is as much about sun protection as anything else. Sure you can go skin to the wind and show off your awesome sleeve tattoo, but in my experience I get the worst sunburn when I’m playing in the water because a) I can’t feel the sun’s heat as much and b) I’m having fun so I’m not paying attention to things like this.
There is some debate in the prone paddling world about PFD usage. Here’s our thoughts: WEAR ONE. We always wear PFD’s. We paddle mostly in freshwater, that is moving, that has rocks. Also, the bellyak was developed with the PFD in mind: the curve of the body area is ergonomically designed to accomodate a rider wearing a PFD.
Our hands down all time favorite PFD, designed for women but works no matter what bathroom you choose: the Astral Layla. This vest has a flat front, multiple adjustment points for getting the perfect fit dialed in regardless of torso length/etc., and is also easy to get on and off with it’s convenient side zip.
While this is our preferred PFD, anything that has low profile front and is comfortable for prone paddling will work great. Just do us a favor and make sure it fits properly with all straps adjusted. PFDs are like seatbelts: you hope you never need them but if you do, make sure they’re buckled!
We love the Bellyak Flow Gloves, because they are purpose built for Bellyaking. You can also use your bare hands, inverted flip flops, or any number of webbed gloves out there. Again, fit is important, gloves that are too big will ‘flop’ around and not be as efficient in the water.
We wear helmets when we paddle whitewater. Again, rocks hurt, especially if you hit them with your head. We are big fans of Shred Ready’s Session Helmet and it’s is what we use for all of our classes. and their Scrappy version also looks stylish and is suited for belly kayaking. Make sure that whatever helmet you choose it doesn’t have a visor that impedes visibility while paddling prone.
8) Thermal Gear
We go out in all sorts of conditions because we love it, and because there is gear out there that makes it comfortable. On a budget and have to buy one piece of gear? A 3/2 full wetsuit is going to be the most versatile for spring/summer/fall paddling in most of the world. You can find great deals on these all over the internet, often for less than $100. Get a wetsuit designed for surfing, if it has knee pads, that’s an added bonus for durability.
What do I wear? I have an NRS Radiant 3/2 that is lined with fleece. This is hands down one of my most favorite pieces of gear. The fleece lining keeps the clammy wetsuit feeling a thing of the past, and the full protection afforded by this piece of gear gives me confidence to tackle anything.
For the dead of winter, nothing beats a drysuit. Being able to stay warm and dry on the inside while your suit protects you from the cold water is invaluable. This is a pricey option, but for those ready to paddle year round, and those who want a super versatile piece of gear, a drysuit is worth the investment. We’ve had luck with Immersion Research and Kokatat. Bellyaking is quite hard on gear, so we’ve found that it doesn’t take long to wear off the water repellent finish on some drysuits, making them dampsuits. We hope to own a Gore Tex Kokatat one day, to see if there really is such a thing as a ‘dry’ suit!
And no matter what Billy Ray tells you down at the river, two pairs of bluejeans and a hoodie DO NOT MAKE YOU WARMER ON THE WATER. Synthetic fabrics only people. It’s 2018. You should know this.
Bellyak Founder and World Champion
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