Sean is a Hawaiian bodysurfer and student of the sport. He is a terrific example of stoke in action. Sean has just launched a new initiative to create innovative bodysurfing equipment and apparel for the global community. If you’re interested in learning more check out Kaha Nalu Hawaii.
The HOBBY of “Collecting” includes seeking, locating, acquiring, organizing, cataloging, displaying, storing, and maintaining whatever items are of interest to the individual collector. (From Wikipedia).
Back in the late 1980’s and through the 1990’s I learned to bodysurf first at Makapu’u with my brother and later in intermediate and high school I would catch the bus or a ride with my friends to Sandy Beach. Back then bodysurfing was easy and simple, there was no problem carrying your fins on the bus, or a bike, or a skateboard.
My first pair of fins were Churchill’s and I had these until I saw my first set of original Vipers with the double blades. I had to get a pair of these and when I did, it was a major upgrade as I could catch more waves and had more thrust. The only problem was that I was very hard on them and cracked the bottom rails and the fins were too much for me to afford as a kid. I moved on to use the BZ Blacktip fins after that and they became my regulars for a couple of years.
Fast forward to 2006 and I’m getting back into the ocean and go to purchase a pair of Vipers, but now they are a little different and didn’t have a bottom rail. I purchase a pair of V-5’s from the nearest surf shop by Sandy’s and start to make my way back into the beach lifestyle. I was working overnight for a cleaning company and everyday after work I headed to Sandy’s in the early morning to get my fix. This goes on until Winter and I head up to the north shore to surf Waimea and Ke’iki shore break, and then transition over to Panics the next summer and fall in love with Kaha Nalu after my first ride at Panics, a long in-and-out barrel all the way to the rocks. Since then it all kind of progressed gradually leading to surfing more often and at different spots around the island, and it truly is a blessing to live here in Hawaii. There are waves year round with a big variety of conditions and sizes, from shore break to reef breaks, or slabs or even deep water stuff and point breaks.
Probably a big reason for the collection is I used to be kind of a sneaker head in high school and I would have to have all of the different Nike shoes and Jordan’s or Air Max’s in different colors, etc. So in 2006-07 I started looking at all of the different swim fins on the market, and as my interest grew in bodysurfing, I started to look at what everyone was wearing and so on. This lead me to a good friend and pillar of the Panics crew – Doug Palama.
Voit Duckfeet & UDT’s
Dougie sold Voit DuckFeet UDT’s out of his truck and when I bought my first pair from him it made immediate improvement to my game, because now I could out swim guys in the lineup and get on waves easier and with more burst. The UDT is the largest (effective) design that I’ve used so far, and I have a set that I will use any time we are out in larger waves or if there is a tough crowd to deal with. The only drawback that I started to find was that the fins were heavy and most-times too stiff, and very hard on the feet. There is a big number of local Panics guys who are UDT guys, and I started seeing the different colors and heard the stories. I even tried some regular Duck Feet and V-Ducks, but the foot pocket was too soft and flexible, not like the UDT’s so I bought a few pairs of each different colors online but hardly use them now. My primary UDT is the Tan/Blue model and these are the softest foot pocket for me, and a friend of mine has grind down the rails for me. I’ve found this to reduce the weight and I feel a little snap at the end of a kick and these are my go-to fins in big conditions and can really double as a good diving fin.
Almost at the same time that I’m getting into the UDT’s I purchase a pair of V-7’s to test against the other fins in my growing collection. Kai Santos was someone that literally puts on a show at Sandy’s. I would watch him do theses death-defying rolls and he’s dropping into vertical bombs riding them out. I first started asking him about fins and we talked about he V-7’s and they were hard to come by at the time, so I get me a pair online. I find that the comfort level of these fins for my feet are definitely the best, but with the refined blade design (no lower rail), I sometimes over-flex the fin on the downward stroke. I go back and forth between Vipers and UDT’s a lot depending on conditions, etc. I kept thinking back to the old Original design and I search out the internet and garage sales and was able to snag a couple of pairs, which are definitely my most prized but I can’t get myself to use them for fear of damaging. I’ve alternated between Vipers and UDT’s for several years until there was a problem with the rubber and when the new Vectors came out, they were too soft and flexible and I would need to find another pair to add to the rotation. The pair of Vector’s I have are special to me because Mr Simpson gave them to me and even delivered them to the house we were staying, but we were at the beach!!! I’ve heard that there is a new batch that is more stiff, and I’m interested to hear how they did in the recent Hurricane Marie swell. But if Viper would ever consider releasing the Original designs, I would definitely cop a couple cases. Nah nah, only one case.
MS Viper & MS Delta Viper
When Mike Stewart first put these out I bought a pair and tested but found that the adjustment from longer fins was too difficult and I always felt like I needed more power to catch the waves, but once you were on a wave the smaller fins were great! I later won a pair of the Delta’s and I really like either of these for shooting GoPro in the shore break, but if there’s any question about the design just keep in mind that MS wins Pipeline Championships with these.
When I first started to notice these fins out in the lineup I would ask questions and then bought a pair to test. These were much different, I like the hard rubber blade but the foot pocket is too loose for me, which leads to cramps in my feet and ultimately not a good choice for me personally. Again, not a good fit for me but just look at Mark Cunningham ride them and all questions are answered. The fins are really very good and probably the hottest off of the shelves right now.
Brazilian Made – Redley & Kpaloa
Steve Kapela is definitely someone I respect and look up to, and when I started out I ALWAYS watched what he did. I would watch how he tracks the waves out at Middle Peak (Sandy’s) and how his aggressive style was highlighted with a continuous leg drive on the wave and I couldn’t figure out how he could get so much speed with the little Redley’s. When I start looking for them they are no longer sold so it’s straight to e-Bay and Craigslist. I’ve used them and like them but again put them on the shelf in favor of my regular rotation. The Kpaloa fins on the other hand were another fabled Brazilian fin highly touted by bodyboarders and I’m able to acquire a pair through Brazil’s “Aloha Ambassador” Rodrigo Bruno. They have been tested, but there is a unique quality with local people in Hawaii, we have extra wide feet, and they are too tight and the collection grows on.
Others – BZ Blacktip / Churchill’s / Surfin
I was a big fan of the BZ’s back in the day and I ordered these to see if I would still like them, but they go on the shelf after a couple of sessions. My Churchill’s were given to me by my “Shark-brother” PMK, and I gladly added them to the collection after this past winter season. I’ve had the opportunity to see Churchill’s legendary design up close and out in heavy stuff over the past couple of years with my Hawaiian brother Melvin Keawe. I’ve seen him bodysurfing 8ft Makaha from the peak to the sand and still shake my head every time. The Surfin is another highly touted fin still used by a couple of different guys, most notable is Papa Paepo’o rider Jarrett Liu and they are no longer in production.
Scott Hawaii & Turbo Fins
Scott Hawaii are a fin I discovered in the past couple of years. They stopped making the fins years ago but there were still some diehard guys that still had the fins at Sandy’s and Panics. I searched and when I got my first pair, they were cracked at the strap and I didn’t really use them until I acquired a backup pair. This by far is one of the best designs I’ve tried and the fins give me comparable thrust and power to a UDT but also the fin blade is short so when you’re on the wave there is less drag. The main benefit for me is that I can use a technique like a flutter-kick (short range of motion + increased number of stroke) which can increase my speed on a wave when needed in a barrel or making through a “fat” section across to the shoulder. I started with my size XL, but the fins were a little too tight for my Hawaiian feet and I could only use for about 1 hr before my feet started cramping. I searched out the larger Super XL but these were way too big so I just kept up with the others until I started getting used to them and they are my primary choice these days. The Turbo fins on the other hand were another fabled fin that only a few guys would even remember and I couldn’t get any info on these until my friend Chris Dumlao (another collector) found a pair on the internet and gave them to me. They are almost identical to Scott’s, with only minor variances to the mold.
So there you have it folks, confessions of a Swimfin collector (hoarder) and how I ended up with over 30 pairs of fins sitting in my mother’s garage. My Wife and my Mom give me some static about them every once and a while, but I think have grown to accept my Imelda Marcos obsession. I keep telling them that I’ll hang them up on the wall when I make my own Surf shop, but we’ll see. So this is my explanation (defense), on how I came to acquire and collect swim fins. As a bodysurfer, they are our main piece of equipment and you can probably stop and talk to any hardcore bodysurfer at length about the subject.. So this is about my journey down the kaha nalu road and my need (and disposable income) to start a collection of old swim fins that I hold dear. My thoughts are from my own experiences and there are a ton of other fins out there on the market that haven’t event been covered here that are awesome. It’s all personal preference + comfort + speed & control, but mahalo for the opportunity to share.