Step aside, stand-up paddleboard: There’s a new watersport in town. Bellyaking is “kayaking meets swimming meets surfing,” says founder Adam Masters, who invented the watercraft outside of Asheville about a decade ago. As its name suggests, a bellyak is quite literally a plastic watercraft you ride on your stomach. Masters, an avid kayaker, got the idea after lying on top of his kayak one day and hand-paddling: “It was an amazing experience.” After years of prototyping and “tinkering” in his basement, he began to sell the patented Bellyak boat in 2012. “It’s a great way for people to get in the water, because we’re combining the best elements of both boating and swimming. In white water, you can teach people to bellyak much quicker than the traditional kayak. In lake water, it’s just super fun.”
The boats, which retail for around $500-$600, have been a hit at summer camps, and Masters runs guided trips along the French Broad river every summer and offers private lessons year-round. He and his limited part-time staff are proud to say that they’ve developed an entirely unique watersport. “Bellyaking is certified by the American Canoe Association as its own discipline,” he says.
If you can’t get to the mountains for a trip, the true beauty of the bellyak is that you don’t need a lesson: “It’s accessible to a wide range of people. Our models can handle up to Class 5 whitewater rapids, but the exact same boat can be used by somebody who’s paralyzed. It’s really cool to get a wide variety of people in the water.” –J.A.