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February 2019    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 34, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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“Traditional” Fins Are Making a Comeback

from the February, 2019 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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

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