The History of: Duck Feet

In the early twentieth century watermen witnessed swim fins evolve from sticky palm fronds to meticulously crafted tools. One of the largest advances in that evolution was forged by Arthur H. Brown. Living in Southern California, Arthur was described as an expert diver in his day. At the time, Churchill Swim Fins were the only option for increased propulsion in the Ocean. He imagined a fin that provided more thrust and floated. His new symmetrical fin would stand in stark contrast to it’s predecessors and create die-hard fans from the very beginning.

Brown began the production of Duck Feet in a canyon near Laguna Beach, California. With the ambitious goal of creating a powerful floating fin, he studied rubber and the modern vulcanization process. He began producing fins under the company name “The Spearfisherman Co.” along with other skin diver focused products. In 1946, following many years of work, Spearfisherman Co. produced their first batch of fins for civilian use. As early as 1950 the fins were produced in both the regular size and Giant UDT. Both types were brown and made of pure gum rubber. These fins looked very similar to the Duck Feet Fins bodysurfers know and love today. Arthur was always tinkering with his molds and adjusting his rubber compounds, but this first shape is indicative of his earliest efforts. The photograph below was taken in Spearfisherman’s second manufacturing facility located in Huntington Beach. You can see in the photograph, both the early Regular and UDT models featured the “faded middle rib” design.

duck feet fin history, manufactured by Spearfisherman Company, Huntington Beach, California.
Duck Feet manufactured by Spearfisherman Company, Huntington Beach, California, 1951

In 1950 the Korean Conflict was initiated and as is common during war-time commerce, certain resources become scarce. One such resource was the Ceylon, which was key to the manufacture of Spearfisherman’s unique invisible fins (pictured below). Brown continued to produce these fins after, but he had to create new compounds to do so. The real genius of Arthur Brown is not his fin design, but in his manufacturing work.

In an article written by Brown himself for Skin Diver Magazine, he details the process of manufacturing rubber fins. He describes the arduous task of turning raw rubber from Malay or Indonesia into vulcanized floating fins. Vulcanization is the process by which raw rubber from trees is chemically treated and compressed to make useful rubber products. Early in the nineteenth century, Charles Goodyear found that by mixing raw rubber with sulfur and applying heat he was able to produce a rubber far more valuable to commercial purposes. Just over 100 years later, Arthur Brown stood on Goodyear’s shoulders and produced the most powerful swim fin to date.

Modern fin producers inject prepared rubber into metal molds in order to vulcanize their final product. Arthur Brown pioneered this process in the 1940’s, forever changing the fin and aquatic goods industry. One of the most important steps in his innovation is the ability to use different rubber compounds on different parts of the fin.  Previous fins were made of the same rubber mix, so if your footpocket was soft on your toes, your blade was just as soft. Brown was able to keep a stiff blade of one rubber type and inject stretchy rubber into the heel strap. Divers marveled at the floating, giant fins with deep channels and stretchable heel straps.

Brown’s design garnered more than just civilian attention. Naval Underwater Demolition Team sailors began using Duck Feet. The Spearfisherman produced a line of fins designed specifically for U.D.T. purposes. They were not only shaped to be much larger than the standard model, he also used “extra-stiff rubber.” These original UDT fins weighed 6 pounds and had more thrust per kick than anything else in the water. In 1956, the Navy Experimental Diving Unit out of Washington D.C., under the direction of then IT. Walter Mazone performed a formal evaluation of fins for military purposes. The tests were performed by 12 testers and they tried each of 14 commercially available fins. Both Standard and Giant U.D.T. Duck Feet were included in the testing, but it was the Giant U.D.T. fins which tested third highest in efficiency. The overall results of the tests were mixed, but Brown claimed his fins were a favorite among Pacific stationed U.D.T. servicemen and historical photographs support his claim.

Despite all of Brown’s manufacturing achievements, in the end he was unable to make Spearfisherman Co. a stable business and in February, 1957 Ken Noris’s Pacific Moulded Product Co. purchased Spearfisherman Co. and all of the innovations Arthur Brown had developed. Pacific Moulded Products had already acquired Swimaster and under the Swimaster branch of the company Duck Feet would continue to be manufactured.

History of Duck Feet Fins

The Swimaster team, under the direction of pioneering LA.CO. underwater instructor Harry Vetter, would leave their mark on the evolution of Duck Feet Fins in many ways. In the same year Swimaster took over production, Duck Feet were made available in black or “ebony” as they called it. The manufacturing change is indicated on the actual fins themselves as well, with Swimaster replacing the previous Spearfisherman stamp. With the new ownership, Duck Feet fins were more aggressively marketed, resulting in a handful of classic fin advertisements (shown below).

Beyond marketing, Swimaster also expanded the models of Duck Feet. By 1961 Swimaster was producing the Giant UDT, Regulation, Custom and Full Foot models. The Custom model resembling the original duck foot mold with an incomplete middle rail and made of softer rubber.

Duck Feet Fin Advertisement with John Steel artwork
In this rare advertisement you can see all four Duck Feet models of the day.

Swimaster carried the Duck Feet brand proudly for seven years and under their stewardship the fins continued to grow in popularity. In 1962, W.J. Voit Rubber Corp.  announced a merger with Swimaster. Voit would take over marketing of Duck Feet and Swimaster technicians would focus on the expanding manufacturing in order to meet the growing demand.

Voit continues to manufacture and market Duck Feet presently. It isn’t clear, when they stopped using the Swimaster name and switch to marketing solely as Voit Duck Feet. You will also notice some Duck Feet models are stamped with AMF (American Machine & Foundry) because Voit is a subsidiary of the industrial behemoth. Along with the name changes, Voit would make adjustments to the beloved fins as well. In attempt to make the Giant UDT more comfortable, the engineers redesigned the footpocket to be rounder and softer. You can spot this change on the fin because they also tapered the center rib to fade before the foot instep. This mold remains unchanged and the UDT Model fins currently on the market share the same basic shape as the 1965 model.

As the years passed, Voit made few adjustments to the Custom Model mold. It eventually became synonymous with Duck Feet, as the Full Foot and Regulation models were phased out of production. The UDT model was moved around with the molds being lost and eventually found in Mexico, but the Custom Model remained the same. Sometime in the 1970’s the Duck Feet Custom Model was produced in two tone blue (above left). Those fins are identifiable by their lack of drainage holes. After the blue, came the “naval orange” version. There would be many more color variations to follow over the years. Voit would eventually add the two drainage holes at the base and mix the rubber compounds to adjust hardness.  The color changes rolled on from brown-black (shown above), black-blue-green to the more recent additions of green-blue and lifeguard inspired red-yellow. Each revision of Arthur Brown’s original innovation let bodysurfers and Ocean enthusiasts experience their passions to ever expanding depths and now we can truly appreciate his pioneering work that made it all possible.



Special thanks to Historical Diving expert Dr. Sam Miller III for research guidance and support. This article would not have been possible without his contribution.

Thank you also to David Ritchie Wilson for research into the U.S. Military’s study of fins.

Tripping Fins: Maui

Hawaiian shorebreak is different than others. The waves are faster and thicker…more menacing. They grow more on the sandbar. The cleanup, sneaker sets are more frequent. Somehow, the barrels are rounder and more square at the same time. Even surf spots far from maximum swell exposure receive deep water wrap and turn inside out.

Having visited Oahu 5 years ago, I instantly fell in love with Hawaii. My best friend Brooke is from Maui and always speaks of its majesty. So this past year, I bolted for the second largest island in the Hawaiian chain and it quickly became my favorite place I’ve visited.

I arrived in Kahului at 9pm on Saturday night, rental car pick up and I was quickly on my way to my room in Paia. The forecast for the week showed a series of solid north swells with likely strong tradewinds from the northeast. I woke up at 5am on Sunday and immediately drove the hour to the dream spot. The spot with the glorious green landscape and the long roping waves wrapping into the Bay and that one section, known as the Cave, that I’ve stared at endlessly on YouTube.  After driving past dozens and dozens of beachfront high-rises and resorts, the coast opens to reveal relatively untouched terrain. A true gem of the world’s coastlines.

I attempted to pack as much of Maui into my week as possible, with an obvious focus on waves and that particular northwest corner of the island. I very much enjoyed the surf nerd fanhood opportunities available around the Island. Watching Clay Marzo ride dangerous spots that few others would consider, witnessing the best women in the world warm up for the Maui Pro and watching Kai Lenny foilboard open ocean swell all stoked out my inner surf fan.

Wednesday was between swells so i decided to chase a classic Maui tourist day. I woke up at 5am and began along The Road to Hana. About a dozen stunning roadside waterfalls later, I couldn’t imagine what this sometimes single lane road would be like with full tourist traffic. Glad I was the first to reach the beautiful small town of Hana that morning. I continued around the east side, looking for a beach that was recommended numerous times. This small cove is the most idyllic little place I could ever imagine: the neon green hillside drops down to jagged volcano rock coastline with a small crescent of perfect sand. Nobody else around…this is where I envision myself living into my 90s. There was just enough swell to reveal some interesting potential and neon blue shorebreak tubes welcomed me for an enjoyable swim.

I continued around the south side and was struck by its remote beauty. My little Chevrolet did awesome on the sometimes unpaved and wildly winding road. I loved seeing the ecological difference between the windward and leeward sides of the island. From cloudy tropical forest to arid sunshine in a matter of miles.

Trusty little ride and the stunning Leeward side.

With time to spare in the afternoon, I drove straight to the top of Haleakalā National Park. Rising 10,023ft straight out of the Ocean, this volcano makes up most of the eastern part of Maui. Clouds filled the famous summit craters when I arrived but the low sun created wicked optical effects shining through the moisture. As the sun began to set, hundreds of people filled the summit and the sky actually cleared enough to provide views of Mauna Kea across the channel to the Big Island and a beautiful pink sunset next to Science City.

Being wholly unprepared for 10,000ft of elevation at night, I climbed back into my car shivering violently. It was a must that I  experience the dark night sky from here so I turned the heat on high and waited. After about 30 minutes the shivering subsided and the cosmos emerged in the ink black sky.

Well worth the pre-hypothermia

What a beauty! I could only manage about 10 minutes outside before the shivering restarted. It took awhile to regain my bearings from the cold as i drove slowly back down the gigantic hill. A classic Maui day.

All told, I bodysurfed about a dozen different spots around the island including one particularly glorious wave at the aforementioned Cave. From slabbing shorebreak on the West Side in front of the countless resorts, to peaky fun shorebreak near Paia on the northside. I hung out with my good buddy Duke who graciously showed me around and met Brady from @we_bodysurfers.  I went to lunch my dear friend’s father Ned and had a chance encounter with fellow Ohioan, filmmaker and bodysurfer Michael Donohue (@blue_motion_pictures).

Before getting on the plane, I managed to swing down to the southside and snorkel with sea turtles and check out the infamous Big and Little Beaches. What an incredible bit of volcanic rock! The potential for fun waves around every corner, gorgeous beaches, amazing terrain and friendly people. I will reside on Maui someday. 


Rainbow Country



Sandy Pages: How to Body Surf

How to Body Surf by Nelson Dewey



In 1970 the second piece of literature focused on bodysurfing was published. In contrast to the first publication 39 years prior, How to Body Surf is an illustrated pamphlet by a prolific artist and novice bodysurfer. The pamphlet was not widely popular at the time and Dewey himself doesn’t have a copy of it, but the artwork and commentary are unique and creative among bodysurfing’s early culture. Nelson Dewey has a long career of producing surf art and our sub-culture finds a hidden gem in his early effort to re-introduce the world to bodysurfing.

The nineteen page pamphlet starts with beginner information like where to bodysurf and who can bodysurf. In the almost fifty years since publication, there are many bodysurfers who would disagree that “…a hollow, tubular type (wave)… isn’t a good wave…” for bodysurfing. There are a few such claims throughout this publication where the athletic progression of bodysurfing is clear, but the visualizations of bodysurfing for beginners stand the test of time.


As shown above, Dewey provides interesting and technically-sound illustrations. The top, demonstrating how to predict sets and the bottom showing the proper technique for diving under surf. It is a delightful experience to see an artist’s vision of the bodysurfing experience. I’ve often wished for the skill to communicate the technical aspects of our sport which become so cumbersome in word form.

I particularly enjoyed Dewey’s visual of the most common experience to all bodysurfers, the wipeout (above left). 

In the age of digital resource Nelson Dewey’s “How to Body Surf” holds up as a creative and light-hearted journey into the world of bodysurfers. Given the absolute rarity of this work, it could easily be very valuable to the right collector. It should be noted that no previous sale of this pamphlet could be found, so an exact price is anyone’s guess. Should you stumble across a copy, I think you would find joy in the sandy pages.




Special thanks to Nelson Dewey for providing additional information on his production of the pamphlet. You can check out more of his work here.

Throwback to Two Weeks in October

The southern hemisphere storm and swell track was comatose throughout much of August and September 2017.  The East Coast of the USA saw weeks of pumping, epic tropical swell, while California and Hawaii watched the live cams and highlights jealously. Swell Affective Disorder (SAD) was deep-rooted. Waveriders walked around slouched over, staring longing at the horizon, hoping for some kind of Ocean energy.

The first pulse after a long doldrum.

Then everything changed. Neptune flipped a switch and provided two weeks of excellent surf at the end of October. A series of solid southern hemisphere swells comboed with fun NW windswell, good tides and perfect local conditions to produce weeks of fun.

Waveriders quickly became sore, rashed, sandy and thoroughly womped. But most of us would gladly trade a couple months of weak swell for a couple weeks of solid swell and excellent conditions. We chased it hard. Some didn’t need anymore after the first week but sucked the marrow out of it. Everyday, 2-3 times a day. Before first light and after last light. 

Conditions remained good from dawn til dusk.
Combo swells and bending waves for days.

Never ever tire of this.
Enough for everyone.
Again and Again and Again