Back in the day, all diving fins were made of hard
rubber. Their big advantage was that, apart from having
the fin straps, they seemed to last forever. Probably
many of you still have some, such as Scubapro Jetfins
or Typhoon Surfmasters, despite their weight penalty
when it comes to packing for a trip.
Then came lightweight technopolymer fins. Some of
them were very good, others were less effective at their
ability to propel a diver through the water. Some divers
preferred to stay with their traditional fins, while others
embraced the new technology, and certain technopolymer
fins became almost ubiquitous at dive sites. A good
example is Mares Plana Avanti Quattro fins, which
I consider the dive guide's fin of choice worldwide.
There are others that are equally good -- Scubapro
Seawing Nova fins, and fins by Aqua Lung, Cressi,
Oceanic, TUSA and a host of others come to mind.
Back in 1998, scuba diving entrepreneur Pete
McCarthy thought up a fin with a split blade. He sold
licenses to use the design, but Apollo and Atomic were
the only two manufacturers to take him up on it. But
after scuba magazines raved about their efficacy, all the
other manufacturers then jumped on the idea and made
their own split-blade fins.
Alas, few of these were effective, and divers
attempting to head into a strong current while wearing
them made little headway. This gave split fins a bad
rap that is still reflected today in exchanges on social
media. Divers are never short of voicing opinions, and
some vociferously express their opinions that all split
fins are no good.
However, over the last 20 years, scuba magazines
have made science-based comparison tests of fins, and
the lightweight technopolymer fins, whether with Pete
McCarthy's split blades or not, have always performed
better than traditional hard rubber fins because they
tend to have bigger blades, use several different materials
in combination to control the flex of the blade, and,
being lighter, take less effort to shift through water.
(We should not forget Bob Evans, the American
maverick fin manufacturer with his Force Fins made
entirely from polyurethane. He may have been guilty of
experimenting with some seriously off-the-wall prototype
designs that were disappointing, but his popular
designs had a loyal following for many years.)
Fins in the style of those original old fins still hanging
in your garage are making a comeback. The traditional
hard rubber ones, such as Apeks RK3, Scubapro
Jetfins and Hollis F1 are regaining popularity, especially
among technical divers. Because they tend to
be in the water much longer than recreational divers,
they usually wear drysuits. Thus, they need to wear
sufficient lead to compensate for the loss of weight of
the gas they breathe during a dive (as many as four
tanks' worth), which leaves them ending up with quite
a lot of air in their suits. This air can migrate to the
lower legs, and lightweight fins increases the tendency
for a drysuit diver to flip upside down -- not good.
A way to compensate for this was wearing ankle
weights, which negated the lightweight fins' advantage
of reduced effort needed to move. But technical
training agencies, notably GUE, came up with the
solution of using heavier fins -- hence the resurgence in popularity of the heavy and hard rubber style. But
when it comes to packing for a flight to some distant
dive destination, the weight penalty makes for these
fins' biggest drawback.
All the other fin types are out there still, and whatever
type makes you happy is the right choice. That
said, social media and forums are full of people asking
about what equipment to buy when they start
diving. Which would you recommend to them? Do
you prefer the traditional hard rubber or lightweight
technopolymer? Or do you have split fins that are effective?
We'd like to know. Write your fin commentary to BenDDavison@undercurrent.org and include your
town and state.
-- John Bantin