One of the early decisions in purchasing Dive equipment will be what type of fin should I purchase.... The answer to this question is not as obvious as it first seems... You need to think about when and how you are going to use them, what type of diving environment and then most importantly what type of leg kick you have.
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Flexibility is an important consideration when selecting scuba fins. Some fins are extremely stiff while others are quite flexible. Stiff fins are better for frog kicking and work well for advanced propulsion techniques, such as helicopter turns and backing up.
For Flutter kicks, stiff fins will usually propel a diver further per a kick cycle than a similarly designed, more flexible fin. However, flutter kicking through an entire dive with very stiff fins can be exhausting.
Lets start by looking at the two types of fins - Full Foot and Open Heel
Full Foot Fins
Many recreational divers opt initially for full foot fins and are commonly called pool fins or warm water fins.
They are simpler to use as you step your foot into a foot pocket that acts like a shoe. It sits tight around your foot and connects it with the fins.
Full foot fins have soft, flexible foot pockets which completely surround the divers bare feet, including heels. These types of fins don’t require you to wear dive boots or similar. They are very comfortable to wear and provides an excellent feel for your kicks and manoeuvring, subject to being a correct fit.
Open Heel Fins
Open Heel Fins have foot pockets that are open in the back. The foot pockets are normally made out of more rigid material than the foot pockets of full foot fins. Also called strap fins.
These fins are designed to be worn with dive boots be that a boot of a drysuit (open heel fins are standard when diving in a drysuit) or a wetsuit boot.
The sizes tend to run larger than the sizes of full foot fins in order to accommodate the extra bulk of boots. The foot with the boots should fit tight yet comfortable into the foot pocket. Open heel fins are used in water of all temperatures, and are essential in cold water environments for thermal protection.
Modern open heel fins offer easy-to-adjust straps or bungee cords or spring straps. Bungee cords and spring straps allow the user to easily pull their fins on and off, particularly if cold hands (no fiddling with clips!) and easy to change if any break.
When buying open heel fins you need to take into consideration that you might wear thicker dive boots which will require more space in the foot pocket, it is essential to try on open heel fins with the boots you intend to use prior to purchase.
Many divers report that their propulsion improved from using these fins and that they manoeuvre more easily due to a tighter bond between your food and the fin.
There are many different types of Open Heel Fins, these are explained below.
There are a variety of different blade types available now, each with their benefits. Some fins even incorporate a mixture of different blade technologies to improve performance and reduce the effort required to complete a kick cycle. Blade fins are made of a continuous piece of plastic or rubber. Design features such as soft rubber panels or holes in the fin help to channel water for a more efficient kick. These fins work well for both frog kicking and flutter kicking.
Blade fins, designed with varying degrees of flexibility, are generally used by divers who do not need to fight strong currents or swim quickly, and for those whose legs tire easily. Stiffer blades are appropriate for those who dive in strong currents and need a fin that can withstand the additional stress.
A standard fin blade is simply a flat surface that is used to control the flow of water as the fin is moved through the cycle, pushing the water backwards and propelling the diver forward. A flat surface cannot prevent the water from flowing off the sides of the fin so reinforcing bars and utilised to improve the strength of the blade but also help contain the water in the blade to increase propulsion. These two components are used in nearly all fin designs.
A step on from the standard blade is the use of different materials within the blade itself to allow it to flex across the width of the blade. The normal utilisation of this method is to see alternating stiff blade material and a flexible rubber. The rubber strips allows the fin to create a U shape to capture and contain the water more efficiently as the fin is moved up and down, significantly improving propulsion by creating a more focus ‘jet’ of water (especially on the upwards portion of the kick cycle).
Split fins are based on nature’s own solution to the propulsion problem (They are based on a patented Nature's Wing concept that uses the tail shapes and motions of dolphins and whales as a model).
Split fins are designed to provide the same (or more) propulsion that a single blade fin whilst reducing the effort required to do so. Another benefit of this style is that the split naturally reduces drag on the fins, lowering the strain on leg muscles from prolonged finning.
The method is utilised differently between manufacturers but the general principle of the design is to create a high and low pressure side to the fin (like a plane wing or propeller). When you kick, the split blade deflects to form a pair of blades that slice through the water and propel you forward.
Divers with joint problems or whose muscles tire or cramp easily love split scuba fins because of the reduced strain on the legs and feet. Split fins work well in conditions with little or light current but may require excessive kicking to fight a strong current.
Hinged blades normally incorporate either a standard or channel blade but also feature a hinging point on the blade. The hinge or pivot point allows the blade to be automatically moved to the best possible angled to provide the best performance. The technology is employed in a number of different ways including simple narrow sections of the blade, bungee style bands and central flexing bars.
Then to make your choice a little more difficult you can choose between Split Fins and Paddles.
Split fins slice through the water with minimal resistance, because rather than pushing against the water with brute force, their flexible blades, when engaged in an up tempo flutter kick, actually generate lift along with a jet-propulsion effect, similar to a boat’s propeller. The faster the propeller turns, the more propulsion is generated. In other words, with split fins, power comes from the speed of a diver’s kick rather than the force of the kick.
However, due to the principles of the design, the best kick for a split fin is a narrow, rapid flutter kick. Not all divers like to employ this kind of kicking action. For them, a paddle fin is probably the better choice.
Traditional paddle fins tend to have stiff blades that require more leg muscle to get them moving. These are designed for divers who want lots of feedback in their kick. Modified paddle fins offer innovative approaches to connecting blade to foot pocket, cutaways in the upper portions of their blades, and soft centre panels. They tend to be more flexible than traditional paddles, making them easier on the legs and ankles. These days, the best modified paddles can compete head-to-head in comfort and performance with the best splits.
Advantages and Disadvantages - Full Foot Fins
- Fewer Pieces of Dive Gear: Diving is an equipment intensive sport, and each piece of a dive gear is essential. Because full foot fins do not require boots, a diver has two less pieces of dive gear to remember, which makes packing for a dive trip easier and lighter and the chances of misplacing a piece of gear on a dive boat less likely.
- Less Expensive: A diver who purchases full-footed fins does not need to purchase dive booties, which typically cost from £30. Divers who have already spent a significant amount of money on gear may prefer full-footed fins for the savings.
- Less Adjustable: Most open heeled fins come with an adjustable heel strap which allows a diver to tighten or loosen the fin. In contrast, full foot fins are not adjustable. The foot pocket either fits or it doesn't. Divers with very large or very small feet may have a difficult time finding full foot fins that fit properly.
- Less Protection: Divers who dive primarily from boats do not have the need for foot protection. For these divers, full foot fins may be the simplest choice. However, those who make shore entries over rough surfaces, or need to walk kitted up to the dive site may prefer open heeled fins and dive boots for the protection. Otherwise, divers who use full foot fins may need to wear shoes to the dive site and then leave them on the shore while diving.
- More Difficult to Put on and Remove: Properly fitting full footed fins are quite snug; any movement of the fins may cause blisters, but can be worn with fin socks to mitigate. Squeezing your foot into the tight pocket of a full footed fin may be more difficult than simply loosening the strap of an open heeled fin and then tightening it once the foot is in place. It is important that the fins fit correctly.
- Work well in warm waters: but your feet will be quite cold if you wear such fins in colder waters. Usually if the water around you gets below 15 degrees Celsius, your feet will let you know pretty quickly that they don’t appreciate the coldness very much.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Open Heel Fins
- Thermal Protection: Open heel fins are typically used with neoprene dive boots, which help to protect a diver's feet from the cold. Divers who plan to make dives in cold water or who chill easily will be more comfortable in open heel fins with dive booties. Open heel fins are also essential when using a dry suit, as dry suits enclose a diver's feet. Dry suit feet can not be shoved into full foot fins.
- Protection From Rough Surfaces & Slipping: Dive boots protect a diver's feet from rough, hot, or cold surfaces, making them essential when performing shore entries over rocky ground. On a dive boat, the grip on the soles of dive boots may help a diver to keep from slipping on slick or wet surfaces.
- Ease of Adjustment: Open heel fins typically have adjustable straps, which make tightening or loosening the fins to fit unusual foot sizes possible. The straps can also be loosened to make donning and removing the fins easier.
- More Expensive: Purchasing open heel fins and dive boots costs more than purchasing full foot fins.
- Boots May Cause Blisters: When diving with open heeled fins, selecting the correct dive boots is essential. Some dive boots have internal seams, which may rub uncomfortably on a diver's feet and even cause blisters. Shoes must be fit properly to avoid pinching, but dive boots must fit both the diver's feet and the fins properly.
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V1.00 Issued via Club Newsletter April 2018