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Bellyak puts you face to face with raging river


May 7, 2012

Adam Masters enjoys his creation

Adam Masters enjoys his creation

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Ever want to get some of the exhilaration of whitewater kayaking without actually learning how to Eskimo roll or self rescue? Essentially a cross between a kayak and a river board, the Bellyak is hand-paddled craft designed to deliver a new way of enjoying the water by letting you jump in head first ... literally.

Bellyak, Inc. is owned by husband and wife team Adam and Anna Masters. A paddler since his wee years, Adam conceived the idea in 2004 but took a few years to get serious about developing it. For the past two years, he's been fine tuning the innovation from the banks of the French Broad River near his home. Adam has had a pretty world class support team to guide him through the process, including his own father Bill Masters, founder of global industry staple Perception Kayaks.

While Adam has the experience and industry connections to seed the project, his wife has brought a different but equally important perspective to the project. Unlike her husband, her approach to whitewater - and water in general - is more of the reserved, humble respect of a beginner. With her input, the Bellyak was created to be as fun and functional for new whitewater enthusiasts as for experienced paddlers.

"I can’t tell you how many times Adam would lead me through a rapid and immediately turn around once through, only to see me getting flipped and dumped on some benign rapid, " Anna explains in a blog post. "There’s a whole language in how the water moves and as someone without all the experience, it was important that the boats could be ridden by everyone, even us newbies."

The Bellyak is easier to exit than a kayak, leaving you free to bail out quickly and surely. It also relies on the simple art of hand paddling. The learning curve is supposedly much shorter than for kayaking, and the Bellyak beckons even novices to grab it, leap in the water and go for it (though you'll still want to start on something mild and manageable).

In addition to being more novice friendly than other boats, the Masters claim that the Bellyak provides a more intimate connection to the water, since you're actually immersed in it. Experts can attack the river from a new angle that makes even calm water feel more dynamic. In fact, the Masters believe it's a sport that demands its own name - call it "bodyboating" or "face-first kayaking."

When compared to a river board, the Bellyak has several distinctions. Most obviously, it's longer, spanning about 8 feet (2.4 m) from tip to tip. Like a kayak, it employs a planing hull that allows for quick directional cuts and carves. The carved out body allows you to lay comfortably, while the foot and hand holds give you a way of holding on. On the downside, it doesn't look like your legs or feet will be much use for paddling since they're in the boat.

"I have river boarded and love it," Adam explains. "Our rivers around here are rocky, and river boarding isn't really an option unless you like getting beat up a little. On a Bellyak, you can easily ferry, dynamically catch eddies and run low volume whitewater that isn't possible on a river board. The Bellyak allows for multiple rider positions as well - prone, kneeling and sitting. Each of these positions allows a range of moves."

Adam sees the Bellyak as a complement to existing river vessels more than a competitor to any single one. He comes across as a guy that genuinely wants to share his passion for whitewater with others, one way or another.

Bellyak is currently working on two models. Its first model is the Frequency, a wide, stable all-arounder that is suitable for beginners. The newer Play model is a freestyle boat designed for more experienced whitewater enthusiasts looking for a new way of hitting river and ocean features.

Bellyak plans to get both models in retailers by this summer. While they won't be cheap, the company has priced them below standard kayak prices to help appeal to the broader segment it's trying to attract. The Frequency will cost US$749 and the Play $699. Not only is that cheaper than the four-figure prices of many kayaks, but you also save money on the paddle!

Source: Bellyak via The GearCaster

About the Author
C.C. Weiss Upon graduating college with a poli sci degree, Chris toiled in the political world for several years. Realizing he was better off making cynical comments from afar than actually getting involved in all that mess, he turned away from matters of government and news to cover the things that really matter: outdoor recreation, cool cars, technology, wild gadgets and all forms of other toys. He's happily following the wisdom of his father who told him that if you find something you love to do, it won't really be work. All articles by C.C. Weiss

Unfortunately the same problem that exists with the Hydro speed exists with this. You are in the river holding onto a hard plastic thing. It doesn't say how heavy it is but I'm guessing at least 20 pounds. There's a reason Hydro speed paddlers have a cage over their face attached to their helmet. I would class this as a total waste of time. The only place it would be worth even trying is in a small wave with a great big eddy below it. That way once this thing is twisted out of your hand you can at least swim after it and catch it before it is gone downstream. Be a real man or a shred Betty and buy a kayak.

Tony Loro

Actually Adam was paddling 30 foot waterfalls in a kayak using only his hands on the Green narrows in NC where he had the inspiration for the bellyak. I have paddled extensively for about 35 years and some serious time in a hydro Speed . If Tony paddles a bellyak he will find that the hydro speed greatly decouples the paddler from the water since the hydrospeed greatly mishandles the human form in water by very poor design. the bellyak on the other hand is simply flying through water using the low center of gravity of the bellyak with a very unique hull that cradles the human form and responds to body shift like riding a bicycle. The bellyak is closer to truely flowing with the natural physics of whitewater and for the experts in the field they know whitewater is never a battle its a blend of human and nature. The ballyak does this better then any other craft in rapids less then class 3 by a large margin. So maybe tony needs to manup and experience the dream of flying that most of us dreamed as a child. its now a reality with the medium good ol H2O Women will simply understand the first time they experience a class 2 rapid in a bellyak.

william edwards
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