Fin Envy

To many, the ultimate expression and symbol of freediving are the fins.

Those long bladed, often flimsy looking attachments that we place on our feet to propel us into the watery realm that we enjoy so much.

Your typical scuba and snorkeling fin, although adequate for their intended purposes, don’t come close to the efficiency of a well made freediving fin when used for the same activity by the aforementioned other types of fins.

The very recognizable trait of a true freediving fin is it’s long blade. Seemingly too long and flexible for efficient propulsion both on top of and under the surface of the water, they are designed for long, slow, almost methodical kicking. To the average viewer they appear to be too flimsy for any amount of propulsion.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Typically the blades are made with a graduated taper that provides a decrease in stiffness from foot pocket to the tip of the fin. Others have the same thickness from one end to the other. But these fins do share a common design trait. The last one third to one half of the blade, though has no side rails providing added stiffness. This allows the blade to flex more and gives increased efficiency in a given kick cycle. The result is a design that allows for an increased length of the fin blade, while providing a very efficient means of transferring leg kick into propulsion, without the typical or expected resistance due to increased surface area of the fin blade. This equates to longer sessions in the water with reduced leg fatigue or cramping.

The results: More enjoyable time in the water.

There are two variations of freediving fins. Full foot pocket and open heel with heel straps. The full foot pocket versions reign as the dominant style preferred by the majority of divers using this type of fin, even when using a substantial boot for cold water, and as such were the only types tested for this review. Then there are those who come from the scuba camp, who feel that an open foot pocket with a heel strap provides an easier process of donning and doffing the fins, especially when in the water. But it is felt by many experienced freediver’s that they do not provide the same amount of support and transference of energy that a full foot pocket fin does.

The subject is still up in the air on this point.

Those who are new to the sport, or who are looking for more information about snorkeling and the equipment involved, typically say "what about the fins at my local (scuba) dive shop that come as a package with mask and snorkel for such and such dollars…." From first hand experience, being a certified Rescue Diver and having done my fair share of dives with scuba fins, I can say that once I went to these long bladed wonders, I never looked back.

Aren’t they difficult to use compared to shorter snorkeling or scuba fins? I would probably say YES.

At first.

The issue here is that since you don’t have to concentrate on the other aspects of scuba, i.e.; buoyancy control, depth, air left in your tank and any of the other multitude of issues related to scuba diving, you can concentrate on practicing good fin kicking technique, which is much easier to learn and master for a neophyte. And as you will see within the article, the issue of fin kicking technique had a lot to do with results on the performance of these fins.

The typical cost range of freediving fins does run higher than your average snorkel fin. They usually run between $95 – $150. There are more expensive exceptions, though. The new usage of carbon fiber technology in the design of fin blades increases the cost of a fin by as much as an additional $75-$125.00.

But what you’re paying for is the quality of the workmanship, the exotic materials, and the ability to dive deeper with less effort in the process.

Our test criteria:

When we set out to do this review, we felt it necessary to scrutinize every aspect of these fins. This included the overall visual aesthetics of each pair. Typically a diver is going to pay more for a pair of freediving fins than for scuba or snorkeling fins. Although it can be said that looks alone do not a freediving fin make, it usually is an initial indicator as to the quality of the design and manufacture of the product.

Ultimately, though, the true test is how well it responds in the water attached to a divers feet.

Each fin was given 2 performance tests. In an open water environment (i.e.; a Pacific Northwest coastal lake), under controlled conditions, we first kicked out on our backs to see how each pair felt and to watch the flex characteristics as we kicked. Swimming out approximately 45 yards from shore, we then rested and did a tuck dive to the bottom at 27 feet. We then swam back to shore, following along the contour of the bottom that gradually ascended as we got closer to shore. This gave us a set distance and profile to judge each pair of fins we used. Only one pair didn’t get us back to shore before we had to ascend for air. More on this below. Although the actual depth wasn’t particularly great by more experienced divers standards, it did allow us to conduct the test with safety in mind.

Diving here in the Pacific Northwest, we wore full 7mm wetsuits with 28 lb. of lead strapped to our testers waists. Weather was very pleasant – 65 degrees with only a thin overcast. Water temperature was 52 degrees and calm.

Although we were critical about something for every pair of fins we tested, overall, we would recommend any one of these brands of fins to a diver looking to purchase a pair.

Cavalero by Beuchat:

Considered by many as the fin to purchase, the GoldFin Evolution came with great expectations for our review. These were used by Pedro Carbonel to capture the World Spearfishing Championship’s in Spain in 1996. Upon opening the box and seeing them for the first time instead brought a sense of disappointment.

It was immediately apparent that the construction of the fins blades was less than we had expected. The blades were warped on not one, but both blades. And it appeared that this was not a result from the packing and shipping to us here at the magazine. We were surprised at this considering the value of $120.00 Beuchat placed on the fins when we checked the packing slip.

The Gold Fin sent to us was the full foot pocket fin. Although the blades were mildly warped, the GoldFin is still made of top quality materials for durability and has a comfortable foot pocket. The blade is non-replaceable as well. Once we got in the water with this fin, our perceptions were changed surprisingly. This fin performed very well in our testing. It was an easy fin to kick, although not as compliant as the Biller fin, and the result was an effortless swim of 45 yards back to shore on our one breath with no problem. I think that Beuchat has the right idea for the GoldFin… design the product well, but keep it simple. No exotic composite blades, no "unobtanium" foot pockets. Just a well designed fin. It performance was unexpected, as the GoldFin was narrower and a little shorter than the rest of our test products. Robert Quintana, Vice President of Beuchat USA informed us that they will introduce a new blade and foot pocket combination. Available in two sizes, 42/44 and 44/46.

Cressi-Sub:

This Italian Company is well known throughout Europe for it’s quality equipment in both freediving and scuba equipment.

Cressi produces two freediving fins, the Gara 2000 and the Gara 2000HF. Available only as a full pocket fin, they are manufactured with the latest in design and materials technology. Utilizing three different materials to form a single mold, the composition blade, instep and foot pocket provides powerful thrust and very comfortable support. It was also one of the lightest of the fins tested. Construction was flawless all the way through. The 2000 HF version is a stiffer blade material for the more experienced freediver and has been utilized by many of Cressi’s sponsored freedivers. Available in sizes 40/41 through 46/47

Esclapez:

Sent 5 pairs of fins for our review, and from what we had heard by word of mouth, we anticipated the delivery with great expectation. Opening the box brought us 5 pairs of fins, 3 full foot pocket and 2 open heeled versions. Our initial visual inspection to the new fins was one of disappointment. As was with the Beuchat Gold Fins, the blades on all of the fins were warped. Not from shipping, but in manufacture. Developed in France by Imersion, this company’s fins have developed an almost cult following here in the United States. Many of the top competitors in the U.S. Freediving championships dive with these fins, and place in the top ten regularly in other competitions. But from an aesthetic standpoint, they were only OK in quality control. What also surprised us was that the fin blades were non-replaceable. Considering the cost of these fins, we felt that this was a mistake in design that definitely stood out.

The fins tested are called for the most obvious reason, the Green Fin, the Purple Fin and the Black Fin. The Green Fin and the Black Fin utilize a material that Esclapez calls "Aluminite", that can be altered in its manufacturing process to change its flexibility characteristics. This companies fins were difficult to figure out when it came time to swim with them on our feet. As we sat on shore putting them on, we found that they were the easiest to attach to our feet. But this was also the big negative once we got in the water. The foot pockets were just too compliant to kick with efficiently. They seemed to over flex as each leg kicked, and made our testers feel as though they were overpowering the fins. We eventually discovered that we needed to modify our kick stroke from a traditional one to more of a bicycle type kicking motion. Once we did this, the fins performed well.

The Green Fin is what would be considered their standard fin. It has just the right amount of flexibility for beginning divers to go out and not worry that their legs are going to cramp after a long period of time in the water. It was just a tad stiffer than the compliant Biller fin, and as such we would recommend it as a fin for long periods in

The Purple Fin is constructed differently. Utilizing a special multi-fiber type composite gives this fin an added amount of stiffness that is difficult to create for the experience level this fin targets. Similar to what Goldilocks said about the three bowls of porridge…"Not too flexible, not too stiff". It was a fin we couldn’t quite classify. Is it stiff or is it flexible? Our conclusion was that this fin could possibly be the one fin that would do well for all aspects of freediving. We only suggest that Esclapez redesign the foot pocket for more support on all of their fins(like the Picasso Black Line, below).

The last fin, the Black Fin is the stiffest fin of the three, and is recommended for the more experienced diver who wants to go deeper and is more physically fit. The Green and Black versions are available in both open heeled and full foot pocket versions, while the Purple is available only in a full foot pocket version. The full foot versions are available in four sizes from 6/7 (38/40) to 10.5/13 (44/46) and the open heeled version, in two sizes 6-10 (medium) and 10/15 (large).

Omer:

The Omer Tuna series of fins (the Tuna, Tuna Winter, and Tuna Competition), seemed like an intriguing set of fins to test, especially since one of the pairs, the Winter, seemed appropriate for the upcoming time of the year that we are settling into here in the United States.

Upon opening the box, I was greeted with one pair of fins, and 3 extra sets of the other models blades to be interchanged for the test.

Very good idea on Omer’s part.

The Initial specs: These fins are identical to the AB Biller Fins in almost every detail. The Billers were an outstanding fin that had lots of compliancy in it’s blade . which I consider an excellent fin for the beginning freediver and snorkeler. So my hopes were high that I was going to get very similar results from these fins. They have a very pronounced rounding of the tip of the fin and "Central flow channels in the Tuna (which are) accurately designed to efficiently and rapidly eliminate the water displaced in the wake of the diver, maximizing thrust power", according to Omer’s literature.

I hoped to put this to the test where I did the previous tests of the other fins reviewed.

The Test:

I always have a problem with getting fins foot pockets to fit, even when they are the same size as my own.

And the Tuna’s were no exception.

Although they were a size 43-45, which fit fine in the length, the width of the majority of fins is just too narrow for the typical American foot. Ask any woman what it is like to put on an Italian shoe, and she will tell you that they are never wide enough.

The Omer’s were no exception.

Enduring the foot cramping from the foot pockets I put each of the fin blades through their paces. Here are my conclusions:

Although extremely well built, they seemed to lack the characteristic flex that I had really enjoyed with the Picasso’s and the Billers. They almost seemed board like, not really putting forth a gradual amount of thrust as I kicked. I especially noticed this in the Winters, which Omer says is their most compliant fin, designed for long periods of time in the water. The Standard Tuna’s felt about the same as the Winters, while the Competition’s were definitely stiffer, although upon inspection, all 3 blades seemed the same thickness. Changing of the blades was easy, and they locked securely into each of the foot pockets without any problem. Just remember one thing. Don’t try to slide the blades off, just pop the rubber rails off the blade directly. It makes the blade changing process a breeze. Omer is to be commended for this, as it makes it easier to replace different blades as conditions warrant. The foot pocket was softer than the Picasso Black Line fins tested before, but was harder than the AB Biller or the rest of the fins from last issue. A definite thumbs up for those divers out there who are a little meatier than the average diver (read, me). It gave excellent foot support throughout the kick cycle, which gives a feeling of direct application of power when I kicked hard to the surface from 25 feet down. Although not a stellar performer, you shouldn’t turn your nose on this company’s fins. They are still a good performer, nothing to write home about, but still a fin definitely worth looking at. My only recommendation would be to widen the foot pocket for US divers that have wider feet.

Available in sizes of 40-42, 43-45, and 46-48.

Conclusion:

Each of these fins has its strengths and weaknesses and I am sure there will be many who will dispute my findings, but I have to give my two thumbs up to the Picasso Black Line and Cressi Gara 2000HF fins – These were, in my opinion, the best overall performers in all areas and are the fins that I would use for my personal fins (I should note that I am 5’10" and weigh a robust 210 lbs, and have found the Picasso Blackline fins meet my needs in all aspects of my diving and have never found a better fin to date).

Dive safe….

Cliff Etzel

Cliff is the former Freediving editor of DeeperBlue.com. He is now a freelance journalist and film-maker.

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