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Scuba Diving Fins Review the Good, the Bad and The Ugly

Scuba Diving Fins Review the Good, the Bad and The Ugly

This is a rewrite of a previous fin report I did up a few years ago.

When divers are searching for dive fins there is a lot of miss-information, too much choice and too few actual “experts” out there who try all of the different fins in a real world environment using different exposure suits, diving in different environments and with different equipment configurations.

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“Aqualung Slingshot Fins are the best fins”. Said NOBODY Ever! Slingshots, Split Fins, Hinge Fins, Seawing Nova Fins, Floaty lightweight plastic fins are a waste of money and lack propulsion

It never ceases to amaze me the things divers put on their feet and attempt to kick underwater with and the amount of energy the exert, the extra air they consume and the additional CO2 they create in the process, not to mention the fact that many dive stores look at the almighty dollar instead of customer satisfaction.

We are at a point in our educational path where we really can’t handle students showing up on referrals or open water courses with the wrong gear.

What makes it the wrong gear you ask?

Inability to perform in the environment that the students are diving in. Inability to propel oneself through the water in an efficient and streamlined manner without stirring up the bottom and inability to maintain proper trim and buoyancy, the ability to move at a reasonable pace without over kicking or over breathing.

Each year we get divers from different dive stores on Open Water “Referral” dives where they often time show up in fullfoot fins (Slip-on fins people wear barefoot) or lightweight, flimsy plastic fins.

Technical 1 Divers doing a Helitrox Dive on Dufferin Wall in Tobermory, Ontario
Technical 1 Divers doing a Helitrox Dive on Dufferin Wall in Tobermory, Ontario great trim and buoyancy with the right fins

The problem with this is the fact that the divers can’t actually maintain proper horizontal trim with these lightweight buoyant fins as they generally speaking have their feet floating up inverting them away from a horizontal position to a vertical foot up head down orientation.

The fins also lack propulsion to actually properly move them through the water.

When a diver kicks what you want is to push the water off the end of the blade of the fin, which is only about the first 13-15% of the blade, while the rest of the fin is designed to be rigid and provide a stable platform for the water to roll down off the end of the blade, so when you put a very lightweight plastic or rubber blade on the end of a foot pocket it just bends and twists and requires side rails to keep the structure of the fin intact.

You need a stiff blade to move more water a soft blade will not displace as much water.

Photographer Fawn Messer photographing Giant Manta Rays in Socorro Mexico
Photographer Fawn Messer photographing Giant Manta Rays in Socorro Mexico

The problem we find with most divers is their inability to kick properly, their inability to stay perfectly still in one spot without moving hands or fins frantically or their lack of awareness.  

Many divers use a flutter kick because that was what they were taught in Open Water, but its inefficient and often times they kick from the hip or the knee straight down rolling the knee/ankle and using excessive energy, while silting out the entire dive site kicking silt up as they channel the water down towards the sensitive bottom fanning up silt and sand one leg at a time, or worse, the divers cause serious damage to the reef as they’re bicycle kicking vertically like a rototiller towards the fragile coral.

At Dan’s, we teach our students a different kick, a more efficient kick, well actually a series of kicks.  Modified Flutter Kick, Frog Kick, Helicopter Turns and Back Fining . These kicks allow for greater control and comfort in the water, while offering more finesse and easier mobility in the water, while eliminating the need for people to hand swim, which is inefficient and a terrible open water diver habit that occurs from divers who aren’t maintaining proper trim or balance in the water.

Why don’t we teach flutter kick? 

Most stores teach their diver to flutter kick because that’s what they’ve always done. We don’t recommend using the flutter kick as your main kick because it creates more drag through the water moving 1 fin at a time causing increased air consumption and energy usage, as well as the most logical problem of it channeling the water straight down to the bottom which reeks havoc underwater with the visibility creating massive clouds of silt that resemble a nuclear mushroom cloud.

Inefficient flutter kicking with a flimsy split fin
Inefficient flutter kicking with a flimsy split fin. Do you notice how the divers body rolls from one side to another?

I was in Tobermory one July 11th weekend and I heard an instructor instructing a student that they needed to get their entire leg into it and kick from the hip straight down. All I kept thinking to myself was what does the visibility look like after these 2 have fluttered through the water? Split fins, hinge fins, fins with funky angles, Seawing Nova fins or really flexible materials are not ideal for diving unless you only ever plan on diving a single tank and flutter kicking. Most fin blades over flex and don’t become useful with divers who have good leg strength. I can over power most fins on the market from the gimmick filled brands.

Nothing offers a better, more efficient, more powerful fin kick than the following APPROVED fins for more progressive diving use: Scubapro Jet Fin, the original, tried, tested, true high performance, high efficiency fin. OMS Slipstream Fin a lighter version of the Jet Fin, Hollis F-1 fins, Diverite Fins plastic fins with exceptional thrust, Mares Quattro a good fin that is longer, but less efficient that the above mentioned fins, Mares Plana Avanti X-3 lighter kick than a quattro, Mares Super Channel stiffer kick than the x-3, Mares Power Plana (New Rubber composite material) good thrust and short blade makes it the best Mares Fin for progressive diving, XS Scuba Turtle Fin a jet fin inspired option, Hollis F-2 fin a shorter, lighter fin than the F1 that allows for the standard kicks with less power and propulsion, not recommended for high flow currents/caves/heavy gear.

The above list of fins although relatively short, cover a broad spectrum of options when you figure there are over 100 different fin models on the market from the major brands at the time of this blog post.

What fin technique is better? 

Here at Dan’s we teach “Frog Kick” or “Modified Frog Kick” to our divers as their main propulsion method because it is an effortless way to swim around your favourite dive site.

You Simply Kick….Glide…..Kick…..Glide.  With a good frog kick you can kick and the push you get will allow you glide for several feet afterwards, allowing you to re-load position of your feet and kick again, often times breathing on the gliding portion and exhaling often on the kick.

You’re channeling the water straight behind you in the same direction the fins are moving. In between kicks there is a glide effect as your momentum moves you forward on your rest stroke and continue on from there.

The biggest issue we have with fins is watching divers floundering around with no control. In an effort to try and keep their knees bent while arching their back to keep their fins at the high point for proper trim, they have a serious lack of control because they can’t seem to do anything with these fins. At that point, the hands come out with sculling to try and stabilize, the flutter kicking starts which is usually followed by a silt out.

Floaty Feet

Some plastic fins are positively buoyant, so when you’re in proper position which should be 10 degrees midline of horizontal, they can bring your feet up too high and keep reaching for the sky so to speak, bringing you inverted and to the point where if you don’t correct it to a point where  you turtle flipping and rolling.

A little bit of weight from the fin, not in the form of ankle weights (which will bring you legs down too low) may keep your feet in the perfect position.

I am a big fan of the Scubapro Jet Fin for this reason.  It offers the best quality fin, lifetime guarantee on the fin even against breakage, and gives me a nice stiffness in the blade, while allowing me to dive it with singles, sidemount wetsuit, drysuit, rebreather or doubles and allowing me to maintain perfect trim offsetting my “floaty feet”. 

Scubapro Jet Fins available in many different sizes, colours and with or without spring heel straps
Scubapro Jet Fins available in many different sizes, colours and with or without spring heel straps

So how do you know if you have floaty feet?  Many people male and female who are thicker through the calves/ankles likely have a bit more need for heavier fins, as do drysuit divers who have buoyancy in their thick undergarment socks or a neoprene boot.

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Dive Rite XT Fins with spring heels

If you don’t suffer from Floaty Feet, find that you don’t need a heavier fin, have a look at the Dive Rite XT Fin.  You won’t find a fin on the market that gives you as much speed and performance in a plastic material than the XT Fin.  Its outperformed virtually every fin on the market in real world and simulated testing.

For more on the XT Fins or a good second opinion of fins have a look at the Dive Rite Blog posted by Lamar Hires back in 2007.

Try getting into the water in your normal setup with no fins on and see which way your body floats, most times your head will drop and your feet will go up if you’re using a proper buoyancy control system and are distributing your weights properly (NOT ON YOUR HIPS). Do this with a tank that is at its lowest tank pressure (if you’re diving aluminum 80’s try it at 1000psi).

If you’re finding your feet go up in a balanced rig for singles or doubles, you can add a trim weight, tail weight or you should try adding a rubber fin to the mix.  If you find your feet drop downwards, you have too much weight on the waist, remove and re-distribute and try again.  If you find your feet still sinking something isn’t right and a Rubber Fin will make it worse.

You can really benefit from additional training as well.  Courses like Intro to Tech or a Fundamentals style course can really improve your skills, knowledge and understanding of the concepts of buoyancy.

Fin Buckles

Likely one of the most often overlooked features of fins are the strap and buckle assemblies.  Fins with plastic buckles and plastic buckle posts and inner roller pins often are made of a breakable plastic material and the loose straps can often find their way into an area of entanglement.

Purchasing fins with spring heel straps makes more sense, you have an near unbreakable stainless steel spring and a stainless or delrin post that is pretty well unbreakable too.

The boots you wear whether wet or dry will stay in place as the stainless heel strap will tighten up as the boots compress with pressure from descending to depth and loosen off as the boots expand back to normal size upon going shallower and the neoprene expanding (if diving wet) or the drysuit boots being filled with a little more gas in them.

Worst Fins for Scuba Diving

The Worst fins without really discriminating against all major fin brands is more of an overview; Avoid the majority of overpriced, overly expensive fins that have hinges, splits, are very light weight, offer unfounded claims of propulsion and performance and of course you can ask us.

Stay away from fins that dive stores are classing as “beginner” fins, there shouldn’t be a designation of “Beginner” or “Expert” diver when it comes to gear configuration.  Every scuba diver should be taught to dive the same way, utilizing the more progressive kicks in the more progressive gear and not be limited by their equipment or their training.

My unwritten rule is if the gear is really pretty or has a lot of hype or bells and whistles it’s likely not that good.

A True Story

Once upon a time I was introducing my ex-wife to double tanks, but she had pretty Pearlescent Pink TUSA Tri-Ex fins, which were very buoyant and I told her she should leave behind at the store as I was loaning her my wetsuit Jet Fins.  When we arrived at the dive site, I got her all buddy checked and I entered the water.At the last moment with my back turned she had a second thought and grabbed her horrible pink fins and put them on in the water and we began our dive.

Seven minutes into the dive she aborted the dive because she was tired and out of breath.  I asked her what the problem was? Knowing full well as soon as she fell behind what the problem was and I noted the pink fins.

She called the dive and told me she wasn’t going anywhere in her fins, so i asked the princess what fins she was wearing and she smiled at me innocently and uttered the words “my pretty ones”.  I told her to get out of the water, grab the Jet Fins and get back in, so she did and she loved them.  For 3 years she dove those fins.  You’ll actually notice them in the top right photo in the background with the pink tanks.

The moral of the story was that she noticed right away how inferior her fins were, how despite the look of the old Jet Fins that they outperformed her newer, more sleek looking fins and that when it came to diving, one little modification like getting better fins can make a world of difference and no longer limits your progress forward.

I’ve always been an advocate of simple and streamlined and doing it right for a reason.

We believe in good fins and proper finning techniques

Maybe it’s because we teach our students a different way of diving, but these divers whom we’ve retrained end up having to buy new fins because their fins just didn’t live up to their diving needs at the open water diver level.

An improperly balanced scuba diver wearing the wrong gear using the wrong techniques
An improperly balanced scuba diver wearing the wrong gear using the wrong techniques

We believe in teaching diving the right way and giving you the tools to make a more informed decision when you purchase your equipment and additional dive training. After learning the pros and cons the customer is able to make a more informed decision. We are happy to sell anything we have or can get if people who insist on them, but it doesn’t mean we recommend or endorse the products at that point. Here are a few photos of us teaching proper fin techniques, proper trim and fit and functionality to new open water and advanced divers.

Our methods and training teaches you how to dive right from the beginning, purchasing the best gear and training available. Check out our training section for more information your next diving course.

DDS Diver maintaining proper trim, posture and buoyancy
DDS Diver maintaining proper trim, posture and buoyancy

Please don’t be insulted if you read that your fins are no good. They’re likely good fins for flutter kicking with a single tank on a reef in a shorty wetsuit, but add a drysuit, a large single tank or a set of doubles, a mild current, more weight to offset that wetsuit or drysuit and now you may find your fins don’t cut it anymore.

Diving is about versatility, evolving and personal development of skills is a big part of that. All divers both recreational and technical should know proper frog kick and they should all have fins that will enhance not hinder in water performance.

If you read our blog and like what we’re doing, we’d appreciate your feedback and business as we share the most up to date and modern information available. Come diving with us, train with us and harness your maximum potential.

The Rescue

One a most recent trip ocean diving in Cozumel 2 divers on the trip were equipped in the wrong fins. One a pair of TUSA Split Fins and the other a pair of Sherwood Elite Fins.  Neither were able to swim against the surface current back to the boat and had to be rescued.

So why did this happen?  Simply put, they had the wrong fins!

It doesn’t matter how much cheaper a pair of inferior, lightweight, plastic Sherwood fins are when you have the fear of your life and panic, which is exactly what happened to the diver in these fins.

The other diver, an experienced DDS diver decided to favor weight for travel over performance and thrust and when they were returned safely to the boat, they said they wished they’d brought their Jet Fins and uttered the words, “Never Again”.

Don’t put yourself in harms way, don’t favor your pocket book over your life, do yourself a favor and get the right gear the first time and the best stuff you can.

Your fins are the most important piece of gear you’ll have as a diver.  Don’t make the same mistakes thousands of new divers a week around the world do.

Buy The Best Fins

Dan’s Dive Shop offers the best selection and pricing you’ll find on scuba diving and snorkeling equipment in Canada or the United States, so please, if you feel that this article has helped you and you would like to purchase the best fins, take a browse through our online store and add a set to your shopping cart today.

Thank you for reading this.  If you have any questions about gear, training, diving techniques, please email me.

See you underwater,

Matt Mandziuk
Recreational, Cave & Technical Diving Instructor
NAUI Cave & Trimix Instructor 45416
TDI Trimix Instructor 4767
PADI MSDT 207233
SDI Instructor 4767
Owner
Dan’s Dive Shop, Inc.
www.dansdiveshop.ca
matt@dansdiveshop.ca