I have a slight obsession, a love of old objects, aged fins or crusty cameras. Imagine the swells 20, 40, or 60 years ago these floppy duffs of rubber pushed wave-riding pioneers into. Some fins have even seen the murky waters of battle. If they could speak their story, they would have such a tale to tell. Beyond the sentimental, I enjoy the feel of different swim fins. Each design utilizing different aspects of hydrodynamics in order to propel us through and on the sea. The differences, though sometimes subtle, are a joy to experiment with.
The patent was filed Sept. 27, 1940 by Owen Churchill. He saw the potential in a rubber, floating swim fins for both the military and public. He was the first to see the dream of mass produced fins come to fruition. His fins have gone through several evolutions. His first stamped products were black and hardly pliable. The next phase were made of the softest fin rubber to date. They were a beautiful green and the stamp included Churchill’s address in Gardena on the stamp. As pictured above, Owen dabbled into business with Voit (the producer of Duck Feet), but none of their combined efforts seemed as useful. Some were made of a more “plastic-like” rubber (pictured above in blue) or with adjustable ankle straps and no drainage whole. The modern day Churchill fins are produced by a toy company “WHAM-O” and are back to using the fabled Malaysian rubber. I enjoy Churchills for soft beach break. I’ve become accustomed to getting power from the inside of my foot, but Churchills are asymmetrical with emphasis on the outside of the foot. They are comfortable and still sport a similar design to the original fins Owen designed in his garage.
Scott Hawaii fins are beautiful. They come in several color patterns, the most common being yellow-blue with red tips. Scott Hawaii fins are no longer in production, but they are a favorite of many bodysurfers. I enjoy the fit of the fins. They feel quite heavy out of water, but for being so short and rounded, they provide excellent drive.
This is a pair of vintage Russian military dive fins. These were supposedly produced in the 1970’s for use by Russian commando frogmen. I love the laces, which make the fins look much older than they probably are.
Voit Duck Feet and the UDT fins have a well defined space in the military historical conversation. The original UDT was designed as the anti-Churchill. The military wanted more drive from their swim fins and the long stiff UDT was born. The footpocket is incredibly stiff, but the propulsion was most definitely unmatched in its day. The modern day Duck Feet fins are used by casual swimmers and lifeguards alike. The modern day UDT, updated flex design by legendary bodysurfer Greg Deets. I enjoy swimming in my UDTs, but my foot is in between sizes so it is not my fin of choice for large surf.
Viper Surfing fins, designed by Fred Simpson for bodysurfers in Newport Beach, California. They have also been through some slight changes in rubber and design over the years, but hold true to their original basic shape. Original Vipers make me think of a workhorse fin. They’re black with square edges, clearly not pining for aesthetic valor and yet they are unique. The first run of fins did not include a drainage hole and can be easily spotted by the double rail (top and bottom). The next version included the yellow dots and came in both 5 and 7 inch blades. I use V-5s as my everyday fin and V-7s as my large-surf fins. The main reason I am hooked to Viper is the unreal fit to my foot. They are snug and responsive to my every ankle flick. They also strike the appropriate balance between power and agility necessary for navigating a variety of waves.
These are Zoomers. Whether it be for the extra workout or for a bit of a challenge, sometimes all you wanna do is zoom-a-zoom-zoom-zoom.
HUGE thanks to Nate Sullivan, the brain and hands behind See Sullivan for use of his studio and his knowledge in capturing some of the fin photographs above.