PURPOSE OF FINS
Fin Essentials explains how your fins allow you to efficiently move through the water. There are many types of fins available depending on the activity they are to be used for. Fins can be used for swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, and free diving. Using the wrong type of fin for your activity can drastically change your experience so we’re going to help you understand how to make the right choice in your search. It’s best to narrow down the fin you purchase based on the activity you will use them for.
Fin Features to look for:
- Strap type
- Open heel or full foot
- Blade vents/water channels
- Blade rails
- Material: plastic/rubber/polyurethane
- Flexible foot pocket
- Blade strength
- Blade length
The differences between Snorkeling Fins & Scuba Fins?
About Snorkeling Fins
Snorkeling is probably the most common water-based activity that you can do with little to no experience and still have a really great time. It does require additional gear. Although not required for swimming, fins are not only highly recommended but are critical for your safety especially when dealing with stronger currents. They will help you generate power to easily propel yourself along the surface, as well as help you dive down to get a closer look at the wildlife. They will also protect your feet from accidentally kicking any rocks or coral that can cut your feet very easily. Fins for snorkeling are traditionally shorter in length, lightweight, travel-friendly, and capable of being worn barefoot. The combination of mask, snorkel, and fins go well together to create an effortless and enjoyable experience. Open heel & full foot styles are available depending on your preference. Open heel fins can be worn barefoot or optionally with a water shoe or bootie. Booties are preferred by some because they help protect your feet as well as keep them warm.
About Scuba Diving Fins
Fins for scuba diving generally should be more powerful than snorkeling fins because of the weight of the additional gear required and the drag that gear can cause. Since conditions can vary easily, you will need to have the proper fins to maneuver those conditions. A scuba fin is usually longer in length, heavier, made from more durable materials, and has a stiffer side railing to keep from bending too easily so that it can still propel you forward. Typically, scuba divers prefer an open heel fin paired with a boot to keep warmer for those lower temperatures experienced at depth. That being said, some conditions are warmer and calm where a split fin would work great.
Full Foot Fin or Open Foot Fin?
Open Foot or Open Heel Style Fins
These are most commonly used for scuba diving but are definitely not limited to that. An open-heel fin allows you to wear booties with them. This is recommended because the booties will protect your feet and provide warmth. They also cushion your foot in the fin which cuts down on blistering, allowing you to kick for longer periods of time. This is also necessary for colder water.
Closed Foot or Full Foot Style Fins
A full foot pocket doesn’t require any adjustment. You can slip your barefoot into them so you will not wear booties. It’s usually made of a soft rubber material that is very flexible with your foot. When wearing full foot fins, you must be sure that they are the perfect fit because a little too tight or loose can lead to an uncomfortable fit and in many cases, blistering. This will drastically reduce the time you can remain in the water as well as the number of days on vacation you can enjoy your snorkeling. You can optionally wear neoprene socks with this type of fin but make sure you have them with you when you try on the fins. Full foot fins are mainly used in warmer water environments.
Split Fins vs Paddle Fins?
To get a better idea, let’s compare a Fork and a Spoon. Holding a fork and spoon under running water or dragging them through water when submerged can be directly compared to the effect split fins & paddle-style fins can have. The fork obviously allows more water to pass through while the spoon cups it and creates more force/drag. Therefore, the type of fin directly relates to propulsion power and air conservation. While paddle fins, like the spoon, generate more power, they can be harder on your legs and joints because they cause more drag. On the opposite end of the spectrum, split fins are much easier on your legs by allowing water to pass through it’s vented opening, yet they do not provide enough power to fight through tough currents. Let’s take a closer look at each.
Paddle fins are the more traditional style that has been around the longest. Since the surface of a paddle fin is typically a large flat surface, it can really grab a hold of the water on both upward and downward kicks, giving you maximum power and propulsion.
When snorkeling or diving, the purpose is not to see how fast you can go so why would you want a powerful fin? Here are a few reasons:
- In some cases, you may find yourself fighting current
- You need to move out of a buddy’s way
- You need to avoid an object you are drifting close to
- You have to help tow a buddy with a leg cramp
These scenarios are much harder to maneuver with split fins that lack power. It’s comforting knowing you have the ability to control your movement when required. Paddle fins also offer a greater variety of kicks available to you depending on the scenario. See more on kicking styles below.
Why is the fin split and what does that accomplish? The split in the fin creates a vortex that assists in propulsion and speed. Since the upward fin stroke is the motion that generates the least amount of propulsion, having the split in the blade allows some relief on your legs and air conservation by allowing water to pass through and not create additional drag.
Here are the scenarios a split fin is best designed for:
- Calm water
- Easy on your legs to avoid cramping
- A smaller person or weaker leg strength
- Energy efficiency
- Air conservation
- You have joint problems
- Not great for frog-kicking or turning
Split fins are great for casual snorkelers but since most of your kicking power takes place on the surface using a bent-knee kicking method, they are not as ideal as a fin with more surface area. You need as much blade as possible to push you along the surface. Split fins are ideal when fully submerged. They are also great for divers or people inexperienced in the water that is still trying to develop their technique.
These gloves have a webbed design similar to the hands and feet of a frog. They help you pull yourself through the water using a scooping motion. They work well paired with your fins while snorkeling. Also great for snorkeling floats where your arms and hands are doing all of the work!
- Dual function paddle glove.
- Works to protect your hands & help pull you through the water like a pair of fins
- Great for use in the pool, in the ocean, in freshwater lakes, etc.
- Nylon back with a rubberized palm that also protects your hands.
- Hook & loop wrist closure.
There are many different features on all kinds of fins out there. So even if you have a strong blade fin, there may be venting on the fin, allowing some water to flow through. Also, fins are constructed from different materials, some more flexible than others, making your paddle fin powerful yet, slightly easier on the legs. Many divers and snorkelers have multiple fin options to be prepared for the different conditions they might encounter.
Fin Strap Types
There are a few strap options available that are designed to make it easier to get your fins on and off. Some people just develop a preference but the strap can be one small feature that can make a big difference in your experience.
This design allows you to simply reach down and pull the strap up to your heel without any additional adjustments.
Similar to the spring straps, no adjustments are required. They are made of an elastic rubber chord that cannot rust like the metal spring strap.
This is the standard adjustable fin strap you’ll find on most fins off the shelf. Although their lifespan is less than the above options, they are easy to find inexpensive replacements for.
Materials used in Fins and their Differences
A lot of fins out there will have a combination of materials used in the design to take advantage of the different features we mention here:
AKA Plastic – is the most common material used. It’s the easiest to shape, available in variety colors, has options at some very affordable pricing, and remains lightweight for traveling purposes. Plastic can also be made nice and stiff to help with propulsion through the water. When storing plastic fins, try to lay them flat, otherwise, they can easily become bent out of shape.
Rubber is much heavier overall, making it a stronger material to help with power & control in the water. You might want this feature for bodies of water that have current or for towing a buddy. Also, the weight of a fin like this can help keep your body upright, especially when scuba diving. Scuba divers have a lot of additional gear that swimmers & snorkelers don’t use, therefore a fin like this can be very beneficial. A solid rubber fin would not be the best option for snorkeling or swimming because the weight can be very tiring and tire you out sooner.
Not as common as the other 2, polyurethane is a very difficult material to mold and add color to. Because of this, there are not many available in the market. It is, however, the most durable material & will never lose its shape.
Different Types of Fin Kicks
Different conditions might call for different kicking methods. Your fin kicking is what causes your propulsion while very little effort should come from your arms. Choosing the right kick for the conditions can increase your efficiency and cause less exhaustion.
- The Flutter Kick is caused by the vertical up and down movement of your entire leg from thigh to the toes. This is the most powerful kick and allows you the most propulsion and ability to get through current easily. It is also the most energy consuming kick. It is not recommended to flutter kick when close to the bottom because you will kick up lots of sand and silt.
- The Frog Kick is a wide kick that utilizes the full strength of your legs. It is also great for snorkeling or diving close to the bottom so that you don’t kick up sand or disturb the coral.
- The Bent-Knee Kick causes the least amount of strain and air consumption. With smaller movements from your hips and ankles, you can get through tighter spaces using this method if needed. It is also the common kick used for snorkeling.
Pointers When Trying on Fins
Whether you are purchasing a full foot or open heel style fins, you need to try them on first. Here are some things to keep in mind.
- Full Foot – Try them on with lycra or neoprene socks if you plan to wear those with your fins because it may change the size fin you’ll need.
- Open Heel – Some require boots so make sure you purchase your fins and boots at the same time. Otherwise, make sure you bring your booties in to try on with your fins. Some booties have thin flexible soles and some have thicker heavy-duty soles which can lead to a different size fin foot pocket required.
- Your foot should go all the way into the foot pocket without your toes touching. Make sure there is no pinching or uncomfortable feeling.
- Try on a few fins at your local store, while focusing on weight, comfort, and of course color.
What fin is the right for you?
- This all depends on where you will be going.
- Tropical, calm waters or boat trips are usually prime locations for a full foot or split fins.
- Anywhere with strong currents, beach entry with waves, or just the need to move quickly will demand more of an open heel style standard paddle fin.
- Make your final choice based on color, features, and personal preference.
Care and Maintenance
- Rinse your fins in fresh water after each use and let it air-dry in the shade.
- Store in a cool, dry place, out of direct sunlight. The sun, over time, can cause the plastic material to weaken, fade in color, and possibly crack.
- Check for any defects before each use.
- Check that your straps are in good condition
- Personalize your gear for when you join on a busy boat or at the beach. Use a gear marker to put your name or initials inside the foot pocket.
- You should be prepared with a spare fin strap since they will eventually break unless you have spring straps.