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July 2008    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 23, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Fastest Fins for Divers

achieve the same speed for either $786 or $160 a pair

from the July, 2008 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

There are so many fins available now that one can get deceived into thinking one type is much like another. Its only when you get them side by side that you can see the differences. But how do you know which is more effective? Pete McCarthy, the man who patented the Natures Wing split fin design, kindly made me some underwater speedometers with the intention of proving his fins were best.

I wanted to measure fins efficiency in moving a diver forward. If you can get a speed of two knots in still water, youll accomplish a speed of three knots with a one-knot current behind you. Conversely, if you head into a one-knot current, youll only achieve that speed. So I assert that these speedometers I used, in controlled circumstances in still water of a fixed depth, gave a good indication of any fins efficiency when compared with another.

The most efficient kick is contained within the radius of the bodys slipstream as it moves forward. A wider, scissor kick is actually less efficient, and most apparent when heading into a current. I grouped the fins by the average results achieved.

The blades are either split (propeller fins), flat, or of the channelled water-scooping variety. Ive never seen the advantage of vents but some manufacturers use them. Some say split fins are no good in a current. Some manufacturers used the split-fin concept to take the effort out of finning instead of increasing efficiency, but there is no such thing as a free lunch - - these soft and floppy versions of split fins proved useless in an oncoming current.

I concentrated on open-heel fins because theyre more popular with those who prefer to wear neoprene boots when diving. All fins compared here are one size up from regular or medium.

The foot pocket is important; I like fins to have ones that encompass my foot up to the heel so that less strain is put on the ankles and shin muscles during the downward power kick. The more support under the heel, the less tiring the fin will be during long periods of heavy finning.

Recorded average speeds ranged between 2 m.p.h. and 3 m.p.h., but it was soon apparent which fins were consistently faster. Fins in Group A were the most efficient but were unusual in that they needed getting used to in order to get the best out of them. Group B were otherwise excellent performers. Group C were not as good, and I reserved a special place for one pair of fins in Group D.

Prices are list price, and all fins have similar straps and buckles except Mares fins (its Advanced Buckle System allows divers to cantilever them tightly onto the feet rather than physically pull straps tighter), and the Force Fin (elastic bungee).

I often hear divers talk about maneuverability. Obviously, longer fins are more difficult to use in confined spaces than short ones but regardless of whether you frog or flutter kick, its just a matter of getting used to the fins you have. If a fin is not comfortable, youll never be happy with them. Now this is not a perfectly scientific test, but the results are a starting point in your quest for the perfect open-heel fin.

Group A: The Most Efficient

Excellerating Force Fin (average 2.8 m.p.h.) Unconventional and compact. The price says it all. Youll either love them or hate them. ($786; www.forcefin.com)

Mares Raptor (average 2.8 m.p.h.). Mares always said it wouldnt make split fins but it has, and good ones, too. But its a pity the foot pocket is a little short, putting unnecessary strain on shin muscles. ($160; www.mares.com)

Apollo Biofin Pro XT (average 2.7 m.p.h.) This version of the heavyweight (6.6 pounds) is an all-rubber Biofin. The foot pocket of each fin is short for those with long feet but the speedometer results are undeniable. ($200; www.apollosportsusa.com)

Scubapro Twin Jet Max (average 2.7 m.p.h.)This split fin defies the idea that theyre no good in an oncoming current. They have one of the most generously-sized foot pockets in length. ($220; www.scubapro.com)

Cressi Sub Reaction (average 2.6 m.p.h.) These are fins for those with the muscle power to use them. The long foot pocket ensures that the fin becomes an integral part of the leg. ($98; www.cressi.it)

Mares Avanti Quattro (average 2.6 m.p.h.) These are the fins by which others are judged and they are still excellent. ($119; www.mares.com)

Mares Avanti Superchannel (average 2.6 m.p.h.) Its a pity that Mares has chosen to make the foot pocket even shorter, resulting in more strain on the shin muscles than before. ($100; www.mares.com)

Group B: Still Excellent

Cressi Sub Rondine A (average 2.5 m.p.h.) You need to be fit in the heart and legs department to get the real advantage from them. A long foot pocket ensures youll make the most of your muscle power. ($90; www.cressi.it)

TUSA Xpert Zoom SF-8 (average 2.5 m.p.h.) I would have preferred a longer foot pocket to allow for a stronger kick, but these still performed with the best. ($175; www.tusadive.com)

IST Talaria (average 2.5 m.p.h.) The foot pocket on this split fin is big enough to accommodate the widest drysuit boot. ($140; www.istsports.com)

Oceanic Vortex V-16 (average 2.5 m.p.h.) The foot pocket on this small fin looked generous until I tried to get my standard boot into it. ($190; www.oceanicworldwide.com)

Oceanic Vortex V-8 (average 2.4 m.p.h.) This fin has a more accommodating, if narrower, foot pocket than the V-16, but it proved hard to pull the boot out after in-water use, and very difficult to get drysuit boots into. ($120; www.oceanicworldwide.com)

Group C: Fair to Middling

Oceanic Viper (average 2.2 m.p.h.) At 3.5 pounds, its light weight appeals to travelers, and it also reflected in my tests to accelerate with it quickly. The otherwise generous foot pocket needs more space in the toe end. ($90; www.oceanicworldwide.com)

Sherwood Kinesis EX (average 2.2 m.p.h.) At 4.4 pounds, its one of the most lightweight fins tested. ($140; www.sherwoodscuba.com)

Aqua Lung Blades II Flex (average 2.1 m.p.h.) A unique clip on the strap undoes easily and makes stepping out of the fin simple, although it tended to come unfastened during testing ($120; www.aqualung.com)

Aqua Lung Caravelle (average 2.1 m.p.h.) The inside of the foot-pocket is entirely smooth, making the fin suck on to the boot and difficult to pull off. ($90; www.aqualung.com)

IST Bora Bora (average 2.1 m.p.h.) Split fins, without the split. Too shallow at the toe end to get a boot properly inserted all the way. ($58; www.istsports.com)

TUSA Tri-Ex SF-6 (average 2 m.p.h.) Its more suited to a dainty foot to fit the foot pockets narrowness. ($99; www.tusadive.com)

Group D: The Bottom Finner

TUSA Reef Tourer (average 1.7 m.p.h.) Tiny fins in a very soft rubber have foot pockets equally suitable for unclad feet as for boots. That said, I found them much better than no fins at all. ($20; www.tusadive.com)

John Bantin is the technical editor of DIVER magazine in the United Kingdom. For 20 years, he has used and reviewed virtually every piece of equipment available in the UK (and the U.S.) and makes about 300 dives a year for that purpose. and a professional underwater photographer.

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