Fin Quiver: Kyle Stock

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Churchill Swim Fins
-Created during the post-war recreation boom of the late 1940s, these are the second generation Churchill. Unique because they float and they are the first swim fin with color. They are made of the softest rubber compound of any fin I’ve felt. It is difficult to believe that they could even provide much thrust, but I suppose when the only other option was your barefeet, they were relatively powerful. I purchased these on Ebay. A pair of “Greens” show up occasionally and the price varies on who is selling them and who is looking for them at the time.

IMG_1928UDTs
-Developed for military use in the 1940s, resurrected in the 1980’s and going strong today. There is a dedicated crew of older riders that will wear nothing else. UDTs are recognizable by their 10inch blade, the longest available for a bodysurf fin. They are very powerful but it takes a little while to get used to the different, longer stroke it requires to get them really moving. UDTs excel when gaining momentum to take off early. I found the brown gum rubber UDTs buried in the back of an antique dealer’s truck in Ocean Beach, SD. I asked him if he had any vintage fins and he pulled these out…exactly the kind of thing I was looking for. The green and brown UDTs are the modern reincarnation developed by Greg Deets. 

IMG_1911MS Vipers
-Designed by waterman and wave-riding guru Mike Stewart. My personal favorite fin. They are my everyday riders from ankle-high to well overhead. Comfortable, plenty of power and excellent drainage. Although, they have been parasitic to my feet. They’ve added (mostly) painless knobs and bumps to my feet that get shredded when I try any other fins. But the MS’s themselves remain very comfortable. Wonder if that’s part of the business plan?

IMG_1903SURF’N
-Classic style. SURF’Ns are recognizable with the sharp color way and intersecting ribs on the blade. I can find very little information about them. They were sold at Hawaiian swap meets in the 80s and 90s and apparently also come in all blue. 

IMG_1919Viper V7
-Built specifically for bodysurfing by Fred Simpson in 1980, these are the most respected bodysurfing fins ever made. The 7inch blade is very powerful and the padded upper foot pocket makes for a comfortable ride. These aren’t swim fins, they’re SURF fins. Unfortunately, they are no longer manufactured, having been replaced by the synthetic Vector. The used market for V7s sets a premium price.

IMG_1933Crystal Scarborough Swim Fins
-She was a Beverly Hills celebrity swim instructor for 30 years. Scarborough developed a method of instruction for children involving arm floaties and swim fins. These kid’s fins appear to be vintage and closely modeled after early Churchills.

IMG_1939Snorkel Fin
-No, you aren’t scoring any tubes wearing these, but there aren’t always tubes or even waves for that matter. A good pair of snorkel fins can open a new world of underwater exploration.

IMG_1906Voit Vikings
-My first pair of fins. I was a hodad that wanted to try bodysurfing but didn’t know anything about it. I rode a few waves and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, regardless of what fins I was wearing. Within a few sessions, one of the Vikings blew off my foot never to be seen again.

IMG_1908Churchill Slashers
-My second pair of fins and by far the worst fins I’ve ever worn. Uncomfortable, heavy and powerless.

 

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Fin Quiver: Sean Enoka

Sean at Point PanicSean 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).
 
 
The Beginning
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.
 
IMG_0115The Rebirth
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
IMG_0112Dougie 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.
 
IMG_0116Viper Fins
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.
 
IMG_0109 IMG_0108 IMG_0107
DaFin
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.
 
IMG_0103Get to the Point Hawaiian
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.
 
Mahalo,
Sean Enoka

Swimming Propellers: History of the Swim Fin

Swim fins are the tools of our passion. We wear them for hours at a time. We often have bloody holes in our feet from the incessant rubbing. Wounds that constantly remind us of recent pumping swell. Fins make land travel difficult and often humorous, but when we enter the water, swim fins instantly transform our terrestrial physiology aquatic. They are rubbery adaptations that allow us to power through heavy surf and into heaving-fast peaks. In this article, we will examine the history of the swim fin.

Hevea brasiliensis
Hevea brasiliensis

The ancient people of Central America were known for their use of the latex extracted from Castilla elastica or Hevea brasiliensis: rubber trees. Olmec means “rubber people.” The quality of rubber varied greatly until the 1840’s when Charles Goodyear and Thomas Hancock developed the process known as vulcanization: the addition of sulphur and other compounds to natural latex along with curing at high temperature. The cross-linking of individual molecules produces the tensile strength and durability of modern rubber. Vulcanization changed the industrial world.

Da Vinci's Vision
Da Vinci’s Vision

In the 15th century, Leonardo Da Vinci experimented with various devices to improve the human physical condition: wings, vehicles and swim fins.

 

Young Benjamin Franklin- Skye Walker Art
Young Benjamin Franklin

Colonial Americans were not known for their agility in the water. A Boston newspaper reported, “The most frequent use of the harbor is for transport, and drowning.” But one 11 year old boy loved to swim. The ingenious child strapped thin planks of wood to his feet and hands, thus increasing his speed and efficiency in the water. Young Benjamin Franklin had discovered the swim fin.

Louis de Corlieu
Louis de Corlieu

 

Frenchman Louis de Corlieu began developing the modern swim fin in the early 1900’s. His 1933 patent called them “propulseurs de natation et de sauvetage (swimming and rescue propulsion device”). Known as “swimming propellers,” they soon gained use in naval military applications.

Churchill Swim Fins
Churchill Swim Fins

In 1940, American gold medal yacht racer, Owen P. Churchill was inspired by local Tahitians using handmade swim fins. Upon return to the US, he received a license from de Corlieu to produce his own rubber fins and renamed them swim fins. They were black and cost $4 dollars. Churchill Fins saw action in World War II with the British Frogmen and US Navy. After the war, Churchill’s team developed a process that made the fins buoyant and allowed for the addition of color. Green, floating Churchills then hit the market. According to Owen Churchill, “The feet and legs of a human being were not designed by nature for swimming…and the use of my invention converts the feet into swimming members of correct hydrodynamic structure and design.”

Mercury 7 astronauts. Aquatic training with Churchills and UDTs.
Mercury 7 astronauts. Aquatic training with Churchills and UDTs.

During WWII, the US Navy Underwater Demolition Team (UDT-precursor to the Navy SEALS) sought a more serious swim fin for their serious duties. The Navy contracted rubber sporting-good giant, Voit, to develop a new swim fin. In 1944, the Voit UDT swim fin was introduced. Longer and stiffer than previous fins, UDTs provided the power that the Navy Special Forces desired.

UDT at the Apollo 15 splashdown.
UDT at the Apollo 15 splashdown.

With the post-war recreation market peaking, Voit released the Duckfeet Custom Model swim fin in 1953. Shorter and more flexible than the UDT, Duckfeet became a standard fin for bodysurfing, life-guarding and recreational diving.

 

Greg Deets testing the aerodynamics of his UDTs.
Greg Deets testing the aerodynamics of his UDTs -Photo: Mel Thoman

In the early 80’s, Voit left the sporting goods industry as jobs went overseas. Their various products were outsourced and the quality of UDT swim fins suffered. They eventually became harder to find. A devoted group of bodysurfers, divers and water people mourned their loss. One such heavy-water bodysurfer, LA’s Greg Deets Ph.D, was not ready to give up his dedication to UDTs. He tracked down the original molds behind a Tijuana barn and began reinventing the cherished swim fin.

Vintage Viper ad with Mel Thoman, Fred Simpson and Terry Wade.
Vintage Viper ad with Mel Thoman, Fred Simpson and Terry Wade.

Fred Simpson began bodysurfing in the early 1950’s on the northside of the Huntington Beach Pier. He first wore Churchills and later Voit Duckfeet. In 1962, while lifeguarding in Long Beach, a friend told him about a hard-breaking wave in Newport. Fred checked it out and soon dedicated himself to bodysurfing Wedge. He became a standout: strong, talented and courageous. He consistently put himself, “in the path of the bull until it ripped his clothes but didn’t kill him.” But after one too many rodeos deep in the Pit, Fred decided he needed more power than his Duckfeet could produce.

Simpson soon had drawings and balsa wood models of his new fin. Local surf and dive shops expressed interest in the prototypes so he went forward with the patent and manufacturing processes.  The first Vipers, released in 1982, were 7” long, all black, with no drain holes and hard ribs on the upper and lower edges. A short time later, drain holes were added, the lower ribs were removed for easier walking and the now iconic yellow splash was added to the blade. Vipers and UDTs are now synonymous with heavy-water bodysurfing.

Mark Cunningham wears DaFins

In the mid-90’s, Aussie ex-pat Andy Cochran, living in Hawaii, developed a unique swim fin called DaFiN.  Today, there are at least a dozen quality swim fin options for the beginner to charging hellman bodysurfer. Churchills are still a sentimental favorite among some watermen. UDTs are new and “biomimically” improved. The Duckfeet Custom Model are revamped with a new flex pattern. Viper recently released the easy-to-see, synthetic Vector series. Considering the current trend of innovation, how will we propel ourselves into waves of the future?

-KS

Special thanks:  Greg Deets, Fred Simpson and Mel Thoman

Sources:
Smithsonian
Cal Porter’s Then and Now Beach Blog
Surfmatters