Fin Quiver: Eric Joyce

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.

Turbo (left) Scott Hawaii (right)

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.

Russian Military Fins

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.

Original Viper Surfing Fins

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.

Cold, Wet, Sandy Wetsuits at Dawn. 

Dawn patrol. 37 degrees at 5:30am. Wind chill a few degrees colder. Coffee. Numerous layers of clothing. Out the door with towel, fins and…damn it! Forgot to rinse and dry the wetsuit after last evening’s session.
The wetsuit is sandy and it’s wet and very cold :-/

Pull up to the spot, too dark to see, but can feel and hear a building swell.  Stand in the biting, offshore wind with the boys. Chugging coffee. Cracking jokes. Try to hide from the wind. Retain some body heat. 

Can't see it, but know its there.
Can’t see it, but know its there.

We’re out there, but first…the worst moment of the day. The wind has already entered the layers of clothing. But now it’s time to strip off those layers.  And enter a sandy, wet, cold wetsuit. Ugh. 

It is an important ritual. The hardship. The adversity. You want waves? Well suffer a bit first. Barefeet already becoming numb on the pavement. One leg in the wetsuit…righteous discomfort. Both legs in and try to focus on the impending waves. Revealing more skin to the wind as the top layers come off. Its cold and uncomfortable but it is Ocean time.

Lock up the truck, grab the fins and sprint down to the beach. Shivering and hooting. No time to waste, first light is approaching.  Zip up and splash……..Wooooo! “Is the water colder than last night?” “It feels colder than last night.”  Little pin pricks all over as water climbs inside the wetsuit. 

Swimming hard, rows of whitewater stack up. Under the first, under the second….
Ice cream headache.

Dive deep, feel the brain freeze!
Dive deep, feel the brain freeze!

Under the third, still zinging. Slightly disoriented but still swimming. During a lull, the brain thaws.

Wits regained, a solid waves approaches. Swim to find the spot and take off. The barrel is round and the glide is real. A sense of warmth washes over. The warmth of a fun ride and vigorous swimming. And possibly some urine.

Warming up.
Warming up.

After a couple hours: feet turn to immobilized stumps inside the fins. Slurred speech as the jaw and tongue freeze. Continuous chills and shivers shoot through the body.  Walking up the beach after the session without feeling numb feet. A chill in the body that can last throughout the day. 

Numb feet.
Numb feet.

But there is something special about putting on that wet wetsuit. It represents passion and dedication.  The hardship presents miniature Ernest Shackleton moments.  Certainly would’ve been easier and far more comfortable to stay in bed. But the fun of riding waves with friends and getting barreled and laughing at each other’s slurred words makes it all beyond worthwhile.

Bodysurfing Baptismal

As with many of my brethren, I was a late convert. Adults are cursed with responsibility and an accelerated experience of time. We are afforded precious few opportunities to slow down the tick of the clock with novel moments, so when I felt bodysurfing for the first time I was awakened anew. Like any good worship, I was filled with immense grandeur and simultaneously I felt small in the endless power of a churning Sea. So began my daily devotion.

The Earth rotates a splinter of the sun into view and I am in my Monday’s best, still damp from yesterday’s harvest. With the cool breeze of Eurus at my back I wade into Neptune’s green cathedral. The pews rest empty in this still, dim hour. Upon the alter I’ll rest my bones for a moment. My pupils stretch to inhale the glory of it all. When my spirit has found the rhythm of Neptune’s heart I stroke to offer up my meager sacrifice. Through mercy I am admitted to the technicolor temple of stained glass. Nirvana. As the Sea wills it, so shall it be. With a tight window, I have to whisper my devotion from the warming sand and steal glances from grace. I carry the peace with me or it carries me from crest to crest.



Thanks to Morgan Launer @morgan_ml for the cover photo for this piece