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ScubaLab: 2013 Fin Test Review

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ScubaLab: 2013 Fin Test Review

One of the benefits of using test divers to evaluate fins is listening to their reactions after trying out a variety of models in a head-to- head comparison. “I had no idea I would feel such a difference,” is the most standard remark. It’s a common misconception, especially among new divers, that scuba fins are all pretty much the same. They’re not. That’s where ScubaLab comes in. This year’s new fin tests combined speed trials by ScubaLab staff at a local pool with ergonomic testing by our test team in real-world diving conditions at Alexander Springs in Central Florida. Presented here is a collated summary of all the data collected.

Click here for our ScubaLab Test Results and Feature Chart (PDF):
http://ads.bonniercorp.com/scuba/PDF/SCD0813_Fins_FeaturesChart.pdf
http://ads.bonniercorp.com/scuba/PDF/SCD0813_Fins_ErgoChart.pdf

FIN ERGONOMIC TEST PROTOCOL:

Test divers, armed with slates and waterproof score sheets, rated each fin in the following real-world performance categories, using a scale from 5 (excellent performance) to 1 (poor performance).

>EASE OF DONNING FIN Both in and out of the water.

>ADJUSTING FOR FIT Effectiveness/ ease of use of the buckles and straps.

>FIT AND COMFORT OF FOOT POCKET As well as the overall feel of the fin.

>STABILITY Watching for wobble, side-to-side slicing and whether the fin blades have a tendency to hit each other during the kick cycle.

>POWER VS. STRESS The perception of power produced during the kick cycle relative to the amount of effort that’s required to produce that power.

>KICKING STYLES During an underwater swim, the ease and efficiency of the fin when using a:

  • Flutter kick
  • Frog kick
  • Dolphin kick

>ACCELERATION During an under- water swim, the ability to quickly pick up speed.

>MANEUVERABILITY The ease of getting in and out of tight places using fin power, i.e., backing up, changing or reversing directions, using small fin movements.

>SURFACE SWIM The ease of propulsion when kicking on the sur- face in a face-down position.

>REMOVAL OF FINS Te ease of using the buckle and strap system, the ability to hold onto the fin without losing it, etc.

>NONSKID Te effectiveness of the nonslip material on the sole of the foot pocket when used on a wet surface, like a boat deck.

BUOYANCY Negative, positive or neutral.

Here's a look at the fin categories we tested:

OPEN HEEL // Paddles

While benefiting from 21st-century design innovations — including variable thickness blades and composite material construction — these fins are at their core traditional paddle fins. Designed for divers who want lots of feedback in their kick, they tend to have stiff blades that require more muscle to get moving.

OPEN HEEL // Modified Paddles

Technically paddle fins, these modified blades have bold designs that set them apart. Unique methods of connecting blade to foot pocket, cutaways in the upper portions of the blade and soft center panels all offer increased flexibility, making them easier on the legs and ankles, and highly efficient kickers.

LAST YEAR'S FAVORITES: Still available, still great fins.

OPEN HEELS:

TUSA SF-15 X-PERT ZOOM Z3
(Testers’ Choice)
A nice power kicker, able to generate plenty of thrust and speed with minimal effort.

MSRP: $169
INFO: tusa.com
(Best Buy)
A good performer that’s comfortable on the foot and easy on the wallet.
MSRP: $79.95
INFO: tilos.com

FULL FOOTS:

MARES WAVE AND TUSA FF-19 X-PERT EVOLUTION
(Testers’ Choices & Best Buys)
Both of these fins topped the charts. For split-fin fans, there’s the Evolution; for paddle-fin fans, there’s the Wave.
MSRP: Mares Wave, $46; Tusa FF-19 X-Pert Evolution, $56 C
INFO: mares.com; tusa.com

Looking for more ScubaLab testing? Check out more of our gear reviews:

SCUBALAB 2014: Dive Bag Review
SCUBALAB 2014: Regulator Review
SCUBALAB 2014: BC Review
SCUBALAB 2014: Dive Lights Review
SCUBALAB 2014: Wetsuit Review
SCUBALAB 2013: Fins Review
SCUBALAB 2013: Mask Review
SCUBALAB 2013: Regulator Review

scuba diving fin review

A ScubaLab team member in Alexander Springs, Florida, performing ergonomic tests.

Elly Wray
Aqua Lung STRATOS ADJ
Elly Wray and Carrie Garcia

PERFORMANCE: The Stratos ADJ is the most traditional-looking fin in this year’s roundup, but looks can fool. The big blade offers enough stiffness to maintain stability with just enough flex to dampen leg and ankle stress. In speed and acceleration, it falls right in the middle of the paddle-fin pack. Using a slow, relaxed kick, the fin will move you quite nicely and will produce decent thrust when needed. It is pretty maneuverable too, in spite of its size, and test divers lauded the foot pocket for its comfort and fit. They also liked the easy-cinch straps with their grab-eyes and large heel loops, making this an easy fin to adjust as well as don and doff. The fin also scored high for its nonskid.

BOTTOM LINE: The Stratos ADJ is marketed as an entry-level fin, but vets will appreciate its performance. For comfort, solid kicking chops and budget price, it earned the Best Buy for this category.

Cressi FROG PLUS
Elly Wray and Carrie Garcia

PERFORMANCE: The Frog Plus is built with a three-material injection-molding process that includes soft rubber along the top and sides of the foot pocket, a dual-density technopolymer in the blade, plus a silicone material to provide flex and channeling action. The result is a relatively lightweight kicker that can generate respectable power and stability in cruising mode. It’s not a fin you want to push; turning on the heat cost test divers some discomfort on the tops of their feet and some barking leg muscles, but it didn’t net them much additional propulsion. However, they found the fin could move them along at a decent pace when they took it easy, and it offers satisfactory foot-pocket comfort along with some first-rate nonskid.

BOTTOM LINE: The Frog Plus is a solid middle-of-the-road performer, offering acceptable power, stability and comfort for the price.

Cressi REACTION
Elly Wray and Carrie Garcia

PERFORMANCE: Like the Frog Plus, the recently upgraded Reaction is built using a combination of three materials, and its blade has been lightened through the use of a new generation polypropylene. The blade is also a bit longer, and it gets progressively thinner toward the tip, creating more flex. Test divers liked the effect. The fin was able to generate better speed and acceleration than its Frog Plus cousin, plus it could pump out more kicking power without overstressing ankles and legs. It behaved particularly well using the flutter kick but handled alternate kicks nicely too. It’s a comfortable fin with a well-shaped foot pocket and nice buckles designed to prevent accidental uncoupling.

BOTTOM LINE: While not the fastest or most powerful fin, the updated Reaction performed its kicking duties well. All test divers liked it, while a couple of test divers loved it, earning it an overall second-place spot on their Top 3 Favorite Paddles list.

Mares AVANTI QUATTRO +
Elly Wray and Carrie Garcia

PERFORMANCE: The Avanti Quattro has a reputation as a fast and maneuverable paddle fin. It’s also known for being pretty stiff. That much hasn’t changed — good news for stiff-fin aficionados. However, Mares has added a new material to the blade’s com- position that gives it a bit more flex — primarily at its tip. And you can feel it quite markedly when kicking. This has shaved some of the edge off the blade’s stiffness, while giving it an extra propulsive snap that really gets this fin rocketing through the water. It turned in the fastest speeds in this year’s shootout, and in real-world diving scenarios, test divers rated it very stable, highly maneuverable and effective using all kicking styles.

BOTTOM LINE: For fans of a stiffer fin that throttles like a Formula One race car, the Avanti Quattro + is a showstopper — and this year’s Testers’ Choice in the Paddle Fin category.

Seac GP100
Elly Wray and Carrie Garcia

PERFORMANCE: The GP100 is a big fin for divers who like a lot of feedback in their kicking motion. The long blade is built with thick side rails and technopolymer stabilizing strips interspersed with elastomers. The foot pocket is made with a thermoplastic elastomer on top and a rigid sole with an extended heel plate to provide support. What you end up with is a lot of stiff fin strapped to your feet. A couple of test divers, big fans of stiff fins, liked it because of this. The rest of the team felt it was just too much fin, requiring a lot of legwork for what it delivered. Complaints included excessive strain on knees and ankles, disappointing acceleration and difficulty maneuvering in tight spots with blades that just wouldn’t bend. Divers also had trouble with the strap adjustments (Seac reports never having a problem with the design, however).

BOTTOM LINE: The GP100 is a fin for divers who favor long, stiff blades. Divers who don’t like working hard for their propulsion should probably look elsewhere.

AERIS ACCEL
Elly Wray and Carrie Garcia

PERFORMANCE: The Accel is a lively fin. It’s also small and light, making it the perfect open-heel fin for traveling divers. The Accel’s blade is made from one solid piece of Monprene, a synthetic rubberlike material. According to engineers, this is the key to the fin’s performance-to-weight ratio. In spite of its small stature, it turned out to be among the speediest fins in this go-round, and it accelerates quickly without straining leg muscles or ankles. It loves all kicking styles and, no surprise due to its size, it is also highly maneuverable and very easy to control. The fin comes with a choice of colorful universal straps that are a chore to adjust — thankfully you have to do it only once. From then on, it’s easy on and off. The Accel’s foot pocket posts also accept standard quick-release fin-strap assemblies.

BOTTOM LINE: The Accel is an impressive performer, good for both local diving and travel. It’s also priced right, making it this year’s Best Buy for this category.

AQUA LUNG X-SHOT/SHOT FX
Elly Wray and Carrie Garcia

PERFORMANCE: The X-Shot features an elastomer blade fitted with a high-flex center panel and a unique “Power Zone” that acts as an intermediary to the blade/foot pocket connection. The Shot FX is the female version of the X-Shot. It offers special foot-pocket sizing and a shorter, softer blade. Performancewise, test divers loved the X-Shot. This includes the female divers, who liked the color of the Shot FX but felt the sizing of the X-Shot foot pocket better-suited them. While not as maneuverable as others, the X-Shot was one of the faster fins, able to generate good power without leg stress.

BOTTOM LINE: While the Shot FX garnered mixed responses among female test divers, the X-Shot was a crowd favorite, earning a third-place spot on their Top 3 Favorites list for this category.

Atomic Aquatics BLADE FIN
Elly Wray and Carrie Garcia

PERFORMANCE: According atomic engineers, the new Blade Fin is made with a construction technique called Power-Loop Monocoque that would take pages to describe, but is apparently the reason why this fin is so fast and powerful. It racked up some of the best speeds of this competition, with snappy acceleration. You can actually feel the propulsive thrust of each kick, yet virtually no ankle or leg strain results from the experience. It was easy to handle in turns, and it wasn’t bad as a surface kicker, although this is where divers reported some strain on the tops of their feet. The fin seems happiest using a standard flutter kick, but it performed just as well using dolphin and frog kicks.

BOTTOMLINE: Test divers loved this new kicker. It took the top spot on their Favorites list, earning it the Testers’ Choice for this category.

Cetatek AQUABIONIC WARP1
Elly Wray and Carrie Garcia

PERFORMANCE: Aquabionic fin is built with Water adapting Responsive Propulsion (WARP) technology, which the company says is a new approach to propulsion. It has a very modern look with a sleek Y-frame connecting the foot pocket to a blade that sports an ultrasoft center panel. While this might insinuate some lively blade action, test divers found the fin to be surprisingly stiff. Reminiscent of an old-style paddle design in its kicking action, the fin tended to generate more leg stress than power when kicking in a standard cruising mode. It wasn’t until divers shifted into turbo that the fin finally came alive, generating midpack speeds.

Bottom Line: More efficient when hard-kicking; for casual diving, testers found the high-tech WARP1 to be a capable fin that offered average performance.

MARES POWER PLANA
Elly Wray and Carrie Garcia

PERFORMANCE: The Power Plana is a serious-looking all-rubber fin that brings to mind those hulking black kickers of yesteryear. Who would have thought it would be such a charmer? While it measures only 21.5 inches in length, its blade is broad and flanked by meaty side rails. Where the rails are thickest the blade is pretty stiff, but as you move toward the tip the design dynamics change, and you get some nice blade flex. The result is a fin that delivers a lot of power, jackrabbit acceleration and ear-bending speeds — some of the best in this test — all without leg stress. Though the fin could benefit from a few more size options, its foot pockets are huge but comfortable, and the elastic straps make donning and doffing easy.

BOTTOM LINE: A compact, burly fin perfectly suited for cold-water or drysuit diving, the Power Plana came in second on test divers’ Top 3 Favorites list in this category.

SHERWOOD ELITE
Elly Wray and Carrie Garcia

PERFORMANCE: Sherwood is riding high these days in fin design, exemplified by the Elite. The lightest full-size fin in this go-round, it comes in lots of sizes, so most any diver can get a very comfortable fit. A dual-composite blade relies more on elastomers than thermoplastic stiffeners, and is supported by a pair of slim side rails, creating a highly responsive kicker that feels light and lively. You can get good flex and snappy acceleration — although, speed-wise, it tops out pretty quickly. The best power-to-effort ratio we found was at slow to medium speeds; push it beyond that and efficiency suffers. And because it’s so light, it’s easy to control when finning in tight spots.

BOTTOM LINE: This is a very comfortable, easy-kicking fin that feels good on the feet, and delivers good kicking performance and much more power than you might expect from such a light fin.

Sherwood FUSION
Elly Wray and Carrie Garcia

PERFORMANCE: With its blade pattern and beefy side rails, at quick glance the Fusion could be mistaken for a split fin. It’s not, of course, but it is one of the longest and heaviest fins in this test group. However, you don’t really feel that when it’s strapped to your foot. Reasonably maneuverable for its size, it works with a variety of kicking styles at a comfortable pace without stressing ankles or legs, but it tends to lack the level of power offered by some of the others in this group. Testers found the foot pocket to be a bit boxy, which created problems in achieving a snug fit. Some testers attributed the lack of power with the side wobble they experienced due to their fit issues. But they loved the Fusion’s heavy-duty spring strap and full-size heel pad.

BOTTOM LINE: the Fusion delivers good kicking action and is easy on the legs. While not as powerful as others, it’s a solid performer.

SCUBAPRO SEAWING NOVA
Elly Wray and Carrie Garcia

PERFORMANCE: this new, full-foot version of SCUBAPRO’s popular Seawing Nova is made of durable Monprene, and features a wing-shaped blade that connects to the foot pocket via a pair of stabilizing ribs that lets the blade pivot and generate thrust. A real speedster, the blade offers a near-perfect balance of stiffness and flex, producing a propulsive snap that will rocket a diver without a hint of leg pain or ankle strain. Stable on the straightaways and highly maneuverable, the fin delivers effortless acceleration. Test divers found the foot pocket to be a bit stiff and the nonskid marginal, but otherwise, this fin hits its performance notes with near-perfect pitch.

BOTTOM LINE: An across-the-board favorite among test divers, the Seawing Nova earned more favorite votes than any fin in this review, making it a bona fide Testers’ Choice in its own category.

scuba diving fin review

Many thanks to our team of Test Divers, and to Keith Mattson, owner and training director of the Dive Station (divestation.com) in Orlando, Florida, for providing the pool for this year's speed testing.

Click here for our ScubaLab Test Results and Feature Chart:
http://ads.bonniercorp.com/scuba/PDF/SCD0813_Fins_FeaturesChart.pdf
http://ads.bonniercorp.com/scuba/PDF/SCD0813_Fins_ErgoChart.pdf

Scuba Diving Staff

One of the benefits of using test divers to evaluate fins is listening to their reactions after trying out a variety of models in a head-to- head comparison. “I had no idea I would feel such a difference,” is the most standard remark. It’s a common misconception, especially among new divers, that scuba fins are all pretty much the same. They’re not. That’s where ScubaLab comes in. This year’s new fin tests combined speed trials by ScubaLab staff at a local pool with ergonomic testing by our test team in real-world diving conditions at Alexander Springs in Central Florida. Presented here is a collated summary of all the data collected.

Click here for our ScubaLab Test Results and Feature Chart (PDF):
http://ads.bonniercorp.com/scuba/PDF/SCD0813_Fins_FeaturesChart.pdf
http://ads.bonniercorp.com/scuba/PDF/SCD0813_Fins_ErgoChart.pdf

FIN ERGONOMIC TEST PROTOCOL:

Test divers, armed with slates and waterproof score sheets, rated each fin in the following real-world performance categories, using a scale from 5 (excellent performance) to 1 (poor performance).

>EASE OF DONNING FIN Both in and out of the water.

>ADJUSTING FOR FIT Effectiveness/ ease of use of the buckles and straps.

>FIT AND COMFORT OF FOOT POCKET As well as the overall feel of the fin.

>STABILITY Watching for wobble, side-to-side slicing and whether the fin blades have a tendency to hit each other during the kick cycle.

>POWER VS. STRESS The perception of power produced during the kick cycle relative to the amount of effort that’s required to produce that power.

>KICKING STYLES During an underwater swim, the ease and efficiency of the fin when using a:

  • Flutter kick
  • Frog kick
  • Dolphin kick

>ACCELERATION During an under- water swim, the ability to quickly pick up speed.

>MANEUVERABILITY The ease of getting in and out of tight places using fin power, i.e., backing up, changing or reversing directions, using small fin movements.

>SURFACE SWIM The ease of propulsion when kicking on the sur- face in a face-down position.

>REMOVAL OF FINS Te ease of using the buckle and strap system, the ability to hold onto the fin without losing it, etc.

>NONSKID Te effectiveness of the nonslip material on the sole of the foot pocket when used on a wet surface, like a boat deck.

BUOYANCY Negative, positive or neutral.

Here's a look at the fin categories we tested:

OPEN HEEL // Paddles

While benefiting from 21st-century design innovations — including variable thickness blades and composite material construction — these fins are at their core traditional paddle fins. Designed for divers who want lots of feedback in their kick, they tend to have stiff blades that require more muscle to get moving.

OPEN HEEL // Modified Paddles

Technically paddle fins, these modified blades have bold designs that set them apart. Unique methods of connecting blade to foot pocket, cutaways in the upper portions of the blade and soft center panels all offer increased flexibility, making them easier on the legs and ankles, and highly efficient kickers.

LAST YEAR'S FAVORITES: Still available, still great fins.

OPEN HEELS:

TUSA SF-15 X-PERT ZOOM Z3
(Testers’ Choice)
A nice power kicker, able to generate plenty of thrust and speed with minimal effort.

MSRP: $169
INFO: tusa.com
(Best Buy)
A good performer that’s comfortable on the foot and easy on the wallet.
MSRP: $79.95
INFO: tilos.com

FULL FOOTS:

MARES WAVE AND TUSA FF-19 X-PERT EVOLUTION
(Testers’ Choices & Best Buys)
Both of these fins topped the charts. For split-fin fans, there’s the Evolution; for paddle-fin fans, there’s the Wave.
MSRP: Mares Wave, $46; Tusa FF-19 X-Pert Evolution, $56 C
INFO: mares.com; tusa.com

Looking for more ScubaLab testing? Check out more of our gear reviews:

SCUBALAB 2014: Dive Bag Review
SCUBALAB 2014: Regulator Review
SCUBALAB 2014: BC Review
SCUBALAB 2014: Dive Lights Review
SCUBALAB 2014: Wetsuit Review
SCUBALAB 2013: Fins Review
SCUBALAB 2013: Mask Review
SCUBALAB 2013: Regulator Review