The Bellyak is a completely new concept in river recreation. Bellyak have labelled their sport body-boating and it is unlike any other river sport out there. It's not a river sledge or body board, nor is it a SUP or sit-on-top kayak. You lie on the top of the boat and use your hands to paddle. We've got a couple of demo Bellyaks (Play 35 & 45) and have given them some use on a few local rivers.
How do you ride it?
Each Bellyak comes with NRS webbed gloves to turn your hands into paddles. You lie on the deck of the Bellyak, which is contoured to fit your body. It is a comfortable position and encourages a slightly head up position, so you don't strain your neck when looking forward. The sides of the Bellyak are higher on either side of your torso so you have some support to help keep your body from slipping sideways.
On the river
While having prior experience on the river shortens the learning curve, non-paddlers will soon learn how to paddle the Bellyak. The only real benefit that kayakers have is knowledge of reading the river. Everything else can be learnt pretty fast. Eddies still require angle, speed and edge, although they spin around on eddy lines much more than a kayak does.
I was surprised by their speed. I expected that the top speed wouldn't be much, but paddling towards an eddy or catching a wave was much easier than I expected.
Everyone who I have paddled with has fallen off a bit, especially at the start. Before you hit moving water, have a few goes at getting back on. It's easy to remount and carry on paddling.
Running rapids is easy. It took a little time to perfect strokes to keep the Bellyak on track, but they turn easily, so corrective strokes will keep it heading where you want. Being lower to the river does increase the apparent size of river features, but probably the most noticeable feeling was that of greater intimacy with the water. You are literally touching the water with each stroke and going through waves and river features really gives you the feeling that you are heading up and over (or through) each wave. The one feature that struck me the most was how it travels through holes. Holes that would slow a kayak would be much less noticeable in the Bellyak. It would rise up and over and seem to 'skim' rather than plug deep. You feel stable, even when passing over turbulent water. Lying down means a lower center of gravity. So, small wobbles go unnoticed.
On the first couple of trips I wore an Astral Greenjacket PFD, but I found that it was being pushed up from paddling in a prone (lying down) position. I then switched to an Astral YTV PFD and being a much lower profile vest I found that it suited the Bellyak position much better.
Paddling a Bellyak encourages you to walk up to run rapids again or to catch waves you missed. At 11-13kgs, it is easy to carry and with no spray deck to fit, getting on and off is easy.
If you know people who would love to experience a day on a grade II river, then a Bellyak is the perfect craft. They can master it quickly and then have a blast on the river. And experienced paddlers will enjoy a new way to experience rivers they may have paddled many times before.