Selecting the Right Fin
by, July 16th, 2012 at 02:19 PM (782 Views)
Getting the right set of fins for the type of diving you do and the conditions you dive in can make all the difference in how much you enjoy the experience. Getting the most out of your kicks can save on the amount of energy you need to expend getting around, it can save you a lot of frustration, and it can even improve your air consumption.
As a rule, I endorse or recommend only those fins and other gear that I have personal experience with. I often trade gear with other divers for a dive or some portion of a dive. My first responsibility is to students and clients, and itís always been key to me to remain objective and independent. Iím neither a scientist nor a physician, so the opinions offered here are based on my own experience and knowledge gained from 44 years of diving.
Before you make your decision, get other opinions Ė a local dive club is a place to find the perfect fin for diving in your area. Talking to other divers at dive sites is another good source of information. On-line forums such as Scubaboard can be an excellent source of information as well.
Some sources suggest talking to your instructor, but Iíd suggest that you use our recommendations as only a single data point in your decision-making process. Many instructors are required by the shop theyíre teaching for to dive name brand gear that their shop sells, and to promote the sale of those particular brands. In many cases weíre actually commissioned to sell as such, but thatís not to imply that your instructor is going to mislead you intentionally. The fact is that weíre a Ďslice of lifeí like any other profession. The vast majority of dive instructors are great people and have a sincere interest in developing passion for the sport. Just saying.
Another source of information you can use are the periodic gear reviews published by some of the dive industry publishers. Most gear reviews are going to look at newer models, but some of the older fins I think are among the best performers, depending upon the type of diving youíre doing of course. Gear reviews generally involve both objective performance measures like speed, thrust and maneuverability, and a series of subjective or ergonomic ratings based on comfort and unique features of the gear such as fin strap fit and ease of adjustment. Scuba Diver magazine has done some of the more comprehensive reviews that Iíve seen, but of course theyíre primarily looking at newer gear. The fact is that dive manufacturers produce a constant stream of new models using advanced technology, so out of necessity reviewers focus primarily on the latest gear.
Deciding which fin represents the best fit for you is largely a personal preference, but it should be based on what type of diving youíre doing, whether you generally travel for diving (i.e.; needing shorter fins to fit in your bags or trying to reduce weight), the type of conditions you typically dive in, physical limitations (i.e., leg strength, ankle or knee issues), and what your price range is. Like anything, with fins you get what you pay for, so my recommendation to students and clients is almost always to look at price only after youíve narrowed the field of choices. If you buy the best and take care of your gear it will last long enough to make the decision self-supporting anyway, so I generally decide what gear Iím getting, and then look for the best deal I can get on it. When everything is said and done, the most important consideration when selecting fins is how they fit you, your dive style, and the locales youíll be diving in. If that doesnít line up it wonít matter how fast or maneuverable they are.
In selecting the right fin for your diving, one of the first decision points you come to is whether to get a split fin or a full blade fin. Iím not a huge fan of splits personally, but then the diving I do involves a wide range of conditions and requires a fin that allows high maneuverability. Iíve yet to dive a split fin that gives me the kind of control Iím looking for to rotate, turn or back up. Leg strength, knee and ankle issues generally lead divers to select a split fin, and thereís a commonly held belief that splits can reduce the tendency to develop leg cramps. Of all the split fins Iíve tried, there are a few that I favor among the field, and those are listed below.
The next decision point is whether to go with a full foot or an open heeled fin. I donít dive full foot fins very often, but when I do Iíll add a neoprene sock to prevent any chafing or blistering where the foot pocket and heel will rub, as they invariably do. I donít dive them mainly because the diving I do typically involves shore entry, and my sense is that I donít get the same secure foot to fin connection I do with open heeled fins.
Finally, youíll want to consider whether you want a stiffer fin, or one that has a softer blade. In a lot of ways this is the same thought process as that concerning split versus full blade fin. If you have strong legs or dive in currents, youíll probably be happier with a stiffer blade. If you tend to cramp up with stiffer fins, back off to a softer fin until youíre able to build up more leg strength, or try doing stretching exercises before you dive.
Among the split fins, I like the Apollo Bio-Fins, the Atomic line of splits, and the Scubapro Twin Jet. Other than those, I havenít tried many that Iíd dive again. Among the full blade fins that Iíve dove, unless Iím diving in wrecks and concerned about silting, my hands-down favorite is the Mares Volo Power fin. I havenít personally conducted any scientific studies on the Voloís, but it seems to have superior technology, and Iíve yet to have a student dive them that disagrees. They can be a bit pricey, but for all purpose diving other than caves and wrecks, theyíre hard to beat. In general, fins are going to generate most of their drive on the power (down) stroke, and very little on the rest (up) stroke. Itís my experience that the Voloís are the exception here, and itís been written that this is due to their vented design, which repositions the blade to get the most out of both power and rest strokes. Maybe, but whatever theyíve done it seems to work best.
Right behind the Voloís are Aqua Lungís Rockets and ScubaProís Jet Fins. Military divers have been using them for years, and I still have the pair of Rocketís that I was certified in back in 1968, so they hold up over years of use. When I do dive travel trips my Rocketís are among the first things that go in my gear bag.
Beyond that, I dive the Mares Avanti Superchannel and Quattro Excel fins on a regular basis. These fins are my regular fins for classes and guided dives. If youíre just getting started as a diver and want a Ďstarter setí of fins, some others with good reviews that you might want to check out include Aerisí Makoís, Aqua Lungís Blades 2 Flex, Cressi-subís Reaction, Oceanicís Viper fins, and in the full foot variety look at Oceanicís Caribe X. Though I havenít personally dove them, many of my instructor friends swear by the Hollis line of fins (particularly high-rated for those doing technical diving) and the Aqualung Slingshot fins. Theyíre both fairly high-end, but I have pretty high regard for the instructors I know that dive these, so you might want to consider them in the mix for your diving.
Once you know the brands that your local dive shops carry you can test most of them out by renting them (most are going to rent the same brands that they sell). With that knowledge you can also watch for tent or parking lot sales, where excess gear is usually sold off at discounted prices. Often times equipment being sold at those venues will be somewhat limited in terms of sizes and colors, but those should be some of your best deals.
Whatever fins you decide on, try them on first, and be sure to bring your booties with you when you try them on. Different booties are going to require a different sized foot pocket, and youíll want to ensure that the fins fit comfortably over the booties youíll be wearing. Also try putting them on using the figure 4 method you were taught in your open water class, and make sure that the fins are easy to put on and remove.
As a final recommendation, most fins will take spring straps. Consider adding these to your fins, particularly if youíre doing shore entry dives. Having spring straps added will make donning and removing the fins a snap and theyíre generally very easy to install. Some of the higher end fins are available now with spring straps already installed. There are two basic types of mounting systems Ė the most commonly used spring straps mount to post or pin on the side of each foot pocket. The other type youíll see on a regular basis mounts to the buckle on Jet Fins, Rocket Fins and a couple of others. Most divers will able to install them in a matter of minutes, or you can get the service technician where you buy them to install them for you.
Whatever fins you ultimately decide to dive, be sure and do solid gear and buddy checks prior to starting every dive. Every in-water rescue Iíve ever performed could have been avoided by doing solid gear checks prior to the dive. Dive S.A.F.E!
PADI MSDT #235938