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February 2008    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 34, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Unusual Scuba Fins, Part II: Force Fins

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from the February, 2008 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Bob Evans is really an artist, and a somewhat emotional one at that. Born in Paris’ Montmartre district to native Californians who were part of the city’s painting fraternity after WWII, he returned to America where he became a sculptor. Polyurethane is his material of choice and his sculptures are his molds. It’s a material that is so hardwearing, it is almost indestructible. You can bend it and it has such a good memory that it always regains its original shape. Bob’s results are designed to be functional. He makes Force Fins and founded the business.

Force OPS Fins

Last year, I tried Force OPS fins. These were evidently designed for Jean-Michel Cousteau and his Ocean Adventures team, and give the longest, most flexible paddle-style fin you could imagine. First of all, there’s the foot-pocket, a sandal-style upper constructed from reinforced ballistic cloth, that wraps around the foot, held tight with Velcro and secured with three straps and pinch-clips. This upper is laced to the polyurethane base, which has a nonslip pad securely attached on the underside. They really could do with an elastic strap at the heel, rather like Force Pro fins have. I found that having to tighten a strap with a pinch-clip and buckle proved less than easy to do in the cramped conditions of a small rubber boat.

Force OPS Fins

Force OPS Fins

By choosing the degree of rotation where the blades are mounted, you can vary the stiffness and scooping effect of the one-piece OPS blade. Not only that, but a ratchet effect allows you to make in-water adjustments to change the efficacy of the fin. The blades are as long as any you will see and I expected their flexibility to reflect a lack of effort in finning, but this was not the case. I really put in hard effort while using these fins but could only just catch another diver with standard-issue, Italian-made fins who was dragging a safety marker buoy and was unaware of the competition from me panting along behind him.

These overlong blades are certainly not suitable for night dives or for use within the confines of a wreck, either. I suspect they had been made for their visual appearance in the Ocean Adventures programs rather than for their effectiveness in the water. It’s not easy to get a pair -- Bob told Undercurrent he will only sell OPS fins to divers he knows and likes - - but not to the general public.

Foil Force Fins

Another of Bob’s ideas is the Foil Force. They afford a rather zany split-fin effect by attaching two separate polyurethane blades to the same sandal-style foot pocket as the OPS fins. Again, by choosing the degree of rotation of each blade you can alter the performance of the fin.

Foil Force Fins

Foil Force Fins

In the water, I found new muscles I didn’t know I had. In many ways, they were much more effective than the OPS variant. I could keep up with other divers but had to make twice as many fin strokes in a fast, short flutter kick, which did not suit my long-legged physique. There was certainly no danger of me overtaking anyone! Rotating the blades in their mounts made finning less strenuous and more comfortable but less effective. Perhaps these Force Foil fins really suit divers with short legs and strong thigh muscles. Tellingly, when finning on my back on the surface, I can usually detect some surface disturbance from the water thrust away by my fins. In this case, there was no such telltale turbulence. (Foil Force fins’ suggested retail price is $250;

Excellerating Force Fins

If I was disappointed in the performance of these innovative Foil Force fins, the Excellerators were a different matter. Don’t expect them to be conventional, though. They are normally supplied with adjustable “whiskers” and are very effective. However, I tried a pair with new “bat wings,” which take a diver from looking avant-garde to outright eccentric. In the water I could really feel the water being thrust behind me in a whoosh as I finned vigorously and powered forward. They were much more appropriate to my own habitual long-legged finning technique than with whiskers and I felt I could take on the most powerful of head-on currents. However, that was not without some cost in the form of some strain on my ankles.

Excellerating Force Fins

Excellerating Force Fins

I canvassed a few other opinions. Simon Gardener, a dive guide on the Peter Hughes vessel MV Royal Evolution in the Sudan and an avid Force Pro fin fan, confirmed this when he tried them. The other dive-guide, Hesham Ayyad, thought they felt very powerful but were uncomfortable. Fellow passenger Hugo Cariss, a commercial director from New York, said he could feel how effective they were but still didn’t like using them at first -- until he got used to them, that is. He said later that they were a bit like surgically enhanced breasts in that they didn’t look quite right and felt very strange but in the end he appreciated that they would do the job nicely. After a number of dives, he thought they were very good indeed. It seems they grow on you. Another passenger, Margreet Verberg from Holland, liked them very much though they were too big for her rather small feet. Everyone agreed they really came into their own once they were in a head-on current.

Obviously, you need to get used to them. When all is said and done, it’s how a fin performs on the end of your leg that counts. It’s obvious they will not be to everyone’s taste, but own a pair of these fins and your pals will be envious enough to hate you, simply because of the money you’ve spent! (They’re listed on Force Fin’s Web site for a ridiculous $629 but can be found elsewhere for nearly half that price, which is still a bundle.)

I came to the conclusion that unlike the more commonly encountered Force Fin Pro fins, which take little effort for those able to deliver a consistently fast flutter kick, the Excellerating Force Fins with “batwings” suited those of us with strength in the legs to take advantage of their huge water shifting ability. The same fins with “whiskers” proved slightly less effective, but the innovative Foil Force and Force OPS fins, although making wonderful conversation pieces, fail to deliver the performance in the water I really expected from them.

John Bantin is the Technical Editor for DIVER magazine in the United Kingdom and a professional underwater photographer.

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