Tripping Fins: South Florida

Where are all the East Coast USA bodysurfers? Hundreds of miles of  beachbreak (albeit inconsistent) barrels. As we know from Eric’s Tripping Fins to North Carolina, there is a lot of bodysurf potential on the “Right Coast.” 

Over the past couple years, I’ve spent some time working in South Florida. Last year, I bodysurfed ankle-high waves a few times and missed the swell of the winter by about 8 hours. This year, I scored numerous fun sessions. It was never over chest high, but the water was warm and stunning turquoise. A Nor’easter moved off the coast of New England, sending north swell down the Atlantic while windswell mixed in from the south.  The end result was beautiful, blue, peaky barrels over shifting sand.

Jupiter, Florida
Jupiter, Florida
Palm Beach, Florida. In front of Mara-Lago "The Winter House." Donnie should bodysurf...would probably do him a bit of good.
Palm Beach, Florida. In front of Mar-a-Lago “The Winter House.” Donnie should bodysurf…would probably do him a bit of good.
South Beach, Miami. You can hear the party from inside the mini-barrels.
South Beach, Miami. You can hear the party from inside the mini-barrels.
Miami, Florida. Sometimes South Florida even has waves.
Miami, Florida. Sometimes South Florida even has waves.
Rocket launch from Sebastian. Maybe the only thing better than being in the barrel would be launching into space from Cape Canaveral.
Rocket launch from Sebastian. The only thing better than being in the barrel would be launching into space from Cape Canaveral.


Florida -KS

The Fin Rail

rāl: a bar or series of bars, typically fixed on upright supports, serving as part of a fence or barrier or used to hang things on.

There are only so many ways to design swim fins. Our physiology dictates the efficient mode of swimming and good swim fins slap a couple inches of rubber to the end of your toes to increase the thrust. There are a few primary variables swim fin designers manipulate to arrive at their final design. The two main factors at work are flex and length, however throughout the almost a century of innovation, fins have developed unique rail attributes worthy of thoughtful deliberation.

At the genesis of modern fin design, Owen P. Churchill molded a pair of fins in imitation of a dolphin’s tail. Much like the dolphin tail, Churchill Swim Fins were smooth and lacked hard lines of geometry. His design provided the first step to increasing human swim propulsion.

Dolphin Tail- Original Churchill Overlay Original Photo: Leanne Smale
Dolphin Tail- Original Churchill Overlay
Original Dolphin Photo: Leanne Smale

Churchill set the stage for the modern swim fin, but decades later Arthur Brown designed a fin which took advantage of stiff rails to provide a much more powerful fin. Brown realized strong rails could provide power both by stiffening the flex of the fin and by creating channels for water to flow through. Bodysurfers were also excited to feel the ability to use their fins’ rails to hold their line on the face of a wave.

Early Duck Feet Advertisement detailing the advantages of rails
Early Duck Feet Advertisement detailing the advantages of rails

Brown’s improvements were not unnoticed and Duck Feet were eventually adopted in lieu of Churchills by the Navy Underwater Demolition Teams. The “ribs” provided a structure to hold the fin in a stiffer position while swimming. If you imagine swimming kicks as “pushing off” the water around the foot, then a stiffer fin provides a firmer push off. The not so obvious improvement was made in channeling the water in a direction more beneficial to the swimmer’s movement. Imagine that same kick in a fin that pushes the water in all directions. The “push” a swimmer receives will give them general motion in the opposite direction of their kick. When Brown added the strong rails and the middle rib, it directed the water off the back of the fin and in turn created specific motion in the opposite direction of the kick.

For a long time bodysurfers had to choose between Churchills and Duck Feet, but in the last fourty years there have been many innovators with different takes on the fin rail. Fred Simpsons original Viper Surfing Fins had a heavy focus on rails. With the distinct double sided rails, Vipers looked a bit different than its predecessors. The second generation and more recognizable fins, lost the bottom rail. Viper’s rails are notable for their 90 degree edge and deep contour. No open-heeled fin before it had taken such an aggressive line. There are other notable rail adjustments. The DaFin design includes a wide and stiff rail that ends half-way down the blade. The Leblon Fin designer has separated the rail from the foot pocket to increase responsiveness of the rail to water flow. 

Bodysurfing fin designers will continue to tinker with dimensions and rubbers seeking the ultimate balance of form and function. And we will continue to document and enjoy the benefits.




Everyone enjoys watching waves. Its mesmerizing. Oceanfront property is so expensive because everyone likes to watch the Ocean. People go on beach vacations and spend the entire time sitting on the beach staring at waves. Bodysurfing provides the best possible vantage point for spectating wave action.img_4423

The next best thing to being in the barrel is watching your buddy slide into a big round one. Spectating a great wave from the water is almost as good as riding one. Bodysurfers have a unique point of view. We’re not worried about duck-diving a board under incoming waves. We wait until the final instant to swim under, maximizing our view as the wave throws over our head. Sometimes, we even watch our buddy too long and take a heavy lip right to the skull…but worth it for the view.


To bodysurf a world-class surf spot on an all-time day is extra-special. Of course its great to sneak a couple fun ones for yourself, but to watch excellent surfing from the water is always enjoyable. Spectate all the weird, wedging double-up drainers. Mind surf. Some part of it is an analysis.  “Where would I need to be on that wave to get the best barrel ride?” Some part of it is pure spectating…”Goodness, that is beautiful!” 

I love the perspective of watching a big set wrap all the way up the coast. Long lines use the entire coast as a pointbreak, wrapping up the beach and throwing barrel after barrel. If only you could bottle those views. Soon, the swell will fill into your peak. You can see it coming from miles away. Make a quick judgement on where you need to be to best maximize your tube experience and sprint swim to the spot. Slide into the first one, slotted in the bending bowl with the ultimate spectator vantage point.

Kick out and swim hard. Your buddy is in position for the next one. You forget to dive because you’re hooting him into a massive green room. Wear the lip on the head without oxygen and get pummeled. But there’s another wave, bigger, starting to stand up. Sprint swim, arrive to the peak late, swim up the face, turn around, big kick and…airborne into the barrel. That view. That Vision. I wouldn’t trade it for every mountain or city landscape in the world. 

Best vantage.



The Stoker

Here’s to our stoker

our rosy eyed friend,

who dreams of glassy curls

and sessions without end.


Here’s to our stoker

the first on the sand,

waking hours before the sun

makin plans to be grand.


Here’s to our stoker

scouring weather models and maps,

no time for the grind

rally the crew with back slaps.


Here’s to our stoker,

hypnotized like a trance

communes with dolphins

and turns knee-high to jubilance.


Here’s to our stoker,

may he never relent

to the doldrums of reality,

lest the lot of us lament.