They may look alike from a distance and share the same habitat, but how does a Bellyak compare to a kayak?
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
We’d like to think a stork magically appears and drops off new bellyaks to people all over the world. Or that they sustainably grow out of bellyak seeds.
Unfortunately, neither of these options are feasible for mass production. Instead, the bellyaks are rotationally molded at BIG Adventures in Fletcher NC. Rotomolding is as much of an art as it is a science. Two people can make the same cake recipe, but Grandma’s will come out much better, because of EXPERIENCE. This is why we partner with BIG Adventures: they have years of experience in molding plastic kayaks. This is the team that makes Liquid Logic Kayaks and Native Watercraft. In fact, we use the exact same polyethylene powder formulation used in all Liquid Logic whitewater boats. This means bellyaks are incredibly durable and will basically last you forever. And ever.
The molds are cast aluminum, only made after many iterations of the product have been done. To read more about the development process ‘click here’.
Step 1: Dialing in the Recipe
Before a model goes into production, the mold is attached to the arm of the oven and goes through several cycles to measure plastic thickness. They also dial in the ‘shot weight’ – or appropriate amount of powder – to find the optimum balance between thickness and keeping it as light as possible. From here, we develop a specific recipe for each bellyak insuring consistency and quality molding.
Step 2: Preparation
Our graphics are applied in mold, becoming part of the boat as they ‘cook’ into the plastic.
Brass inserts are applied for handle attachments, and then pre-measured polyethylene powder is placed in the mold. At this point the two halves of the molds are clamped shut.
Step 3: Cooking
The mold moves into the cooking chamber to cook at 525 f for 14 minutes. This is where the magic happens. As the mold heats it is rotated on two axes (rotation dialed in specifically for each model). The powder liquifies and coats the inside of the mold as it rotates. After this it is moved into a cooling chamber where the mold continues to spin as the temperature is brought down in a controlled environment.
Step 4: Cooling and assembly
While the boat is still warm, but not hot, it is removed from the mold and placed in a cooling fixture. At this point the excess plastic is trimmed and the whole bellyak is flamed with a heat gun to give it a super glossy finish.
Handles, hatch, skeg, pad are all installed, and the bellyak goes through a final inspection process before being placed in the rack.
Step 5: Shipping
Once an order is placed, the boat is bagged in a heavy felt bag and shipped anywhere in the world! It is delivered to you for prone paddling awesomeness wherever you are!
Don’t like to read? Us neither. Just watch this video instead!
How Bellyaks are Made
There are no shortage of beautiful waterways to bellyak on than in our home region of Western North Carolina. Not only do we have killer BBQ and more craft breweries than we can count on our fingers and toes, but we also have more than 400,000 miles of waterways in the whole state. You better keep them a secret, but here are our top 5 WNC rivers to paddle:
1) Section 8 of the French Broad
The French Broad River is the second oldest river in the world, which makes it older than my great, great, great granddad. And he’s old. So old in fact, that it has developed a certain smell only found in this particular waterway. Although the whole river is great to paddle, Section 8 is one of our favorites.
This is a 5 mile (ish) section downstream of Marshall NC, about 30 minutes north of Asheville NC. Section 8 begins below Redmond Dam, and takes out at Barnard (the put in for the most famous section: Section 9). Section 8 is rarely traveled, but is the perfect section for new paddlers, or those looking for a family friendly float. There are no real ‘rapids’ on this section, but what makes it fun is that there is consistent gradient from put in to take out, making for a nice ‘moving sidewalk’ of current. There are also many eagles and otters that live along this mostly unpopulated stretch of river. If you’re also on the hunt for somewhere to stay, one of the French Broad River Paddle Trail campsites is on this section.
2) Section 9 of the French Broad
Are you seeing a pattern here? This section has been written about before, and is the location for the evolution and development of Bellyak more than any other stretch of river. This is a great section for beginning whitewater training, with an instructor. In the four mile stretch of river between Barnard and Stackhouse, there are multiple Class 2 and 3 rapids that offer many different ways to go down, from easy straight down the middle to maze like runs that require precise navigation. At higher levels this section can be quite pushy due to the amount of volume coming down the river.
For Section 9 rapid by rapid, check out our Where to Bellyak: French Broad Section 9 post here.
3) Lower Nolichucky
This section of river, beginning at USA Raft in Erwin TN and ending at Jackson Love Bridge, is a perfect section for those looking to taste a little whitewater action in a perfectly clean and pristine river. The Lower Nolichucky is approximately one hour north of Asheville, and flows year round. Contact the folks at USA Raft to book your trip. They have expert guides, hot showers, and beautiful accommodations right along the river.
4) Nolichucky Gorge
On the books to be named a Wild and Scenic River, the Nolichucky Gorge flows through the deepest gorge in the Southeast. Over 8 miles of amazing whitewater that will delight and test the most avid of paddlers. Rapids such as Quarter Mile, surf spots like Jaws, and miles of beautiful scenery in a pristine gorge make for an amazing day on the water. For those inexperienced, having the experts at USA Raft guide you down is the way to go.
5) Big Laurel
40 minutes north of Asheville is the best section of whitewater Bellyaking known to man. The Big Laurel River. Flowing out of the shadows of Mount Mitchell, the Big Laurel is a tight, low volume creek popular with fisherman that flows into the French Broad River below Stackhouse. The Big Laurel has a trail running along the side which allows for easy scouting and portaging if necessary. Rapids such as Triple Drop, Suddy Hole, and the Narrows provide exciting, technical rapids in a beautiful setting. Check with the folks at Laurel River Store for good levels. Levels from 3” to one foot are ideal. Over a foot and the spice level goes up exponentially. Great surfing right at the put in at Cabin Wave.
By Adam Masters, bellyak Founder
There is no better feeling than having your face inches from the water while watching the river rush by. Going fast while sitting still. Prone river surfing causes time to stop, and everyone remembers their first time better than prom night. For most, it’s the only anniversary that matters. Most impressions of surfing conjure up Gidget standing effortlessly sliding down a perfect TV wave with nothing but palm trees and coconuts for miles. Those of us lucky enough to not go to bed every night stuck to sandy sheets have to look for our own endless wave, the waves created by the timeless forces of rocks, water, and gravity.
Sorry, no posts matched your criteria