Of all the various pieces of equipment you will acquire for scuba diving, none are more organic and natural-looking than your fins. Relatively simple in design, they’re extremely beneficial as well. Without a pair, it would be virtually impossible to move easily through the water with your gear. But a trip to the dive shop may send your head into a spin over the number and various styles of fins that are on the market. What kind are you supposed to get, and which are best? Here’s a quick primer on what’s what and which type are the best choice for you:
Closed and Open Heel - Closed heel fins have a back resembling a shoe, while open heel fins are fastened on with a strap that circles the back of the foot. Many people who scuba dive in colder waters prefer open heel fins because of the ease in which a foot can be inserted while wearing a neoprene boot. And since the strap is adjustable, you are assured a good fit. With closed heel fins, it may be difficult to find one in exactly the right size. The main downside to the open heel design is the possibility of your strap breaking, a problem which can be easily be remedied by carrying a spare strap. Closed heel fins are useful for scuba diving in warmer climates where boots are not needed, and are popular among snorkelers who don’t need the extra snugness to easily propel themselves and a significant amount of gear.
Paddle and Split Fins - These names refer to the layout of the fin front, the part that does the work. Paddle fins are solid and sturdy, resembling their namesake, while split fins feature a narrow cut up the middle. Both styles have benefits and drawbacks. Paddles allow for optimal maneuverability, yet must be worked with strong kicks and may tire a diver out quickly. Splits, on the other hand, are more efficient and require less leg action (and, thus, less effort) but aren’t as good when it comes to control and precise moves such as backing up. For this reason, splits aren’t advisable for wreck or cave diving. Splits also provide less power, which could be a problem when in an area with strong currents.
Unique Designs - Some manufacturers have come out with added features to increase performance of one kind or another. Force Fins are made by only one company and are designed for efficiency rather than agility. Pivot blade fins flex and bend more, providing increased traction. Flip fins are hinged and fold in half, with the front angling back toward your ankle. This innovative design allows you to easily climb a dive ladder as well as walk in a normal manner. Keep in mind that not all fins are suitable for scuba diving – many are specialized for use by individuals such as lifeguards, body surfers and free divers.
So which fins are for you? Only you will know for sure. It’s best to try out as many as you can, whether by renting from a local dive shop or school or borrowing from a fellow diver with the same foot size. After a few “test dives”, you’ll have a better idea of what you like and what works best.