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Welcome to Dive Gear Reviews, a comprehensive guide to scuba diving equipment. Scuba diving is an expensive pursuit, so looking up reviews for a particular article of equipment is a wise precaution before investing any hard-earned money in it. However, consumer reviews may or may not be written by an experienced diver, and magazine reviews could be suspect due to the advertising ties of the publication in question. Dive Gear Reviews provides cross-referenced reviews assembled by an expert, making it possible to see at a glance what multiple sources said about a particular piece of scuba equipment. If one magazine loved a scuba regulator or a dive computer, but the consumers hated it, that information will be found here.

Paddle vs. Split Fins

Written by Dive Gear Reviews Editor. Comments Off on Paddle vs. Split Fins Posted in: Dive Gear Tips, Fins, Scuba Product Guides
Paddle and Split fins

Paddle vs. Split Fins (Credit: Dive Gear Reviews)

After open heeled vs. closed, the most basic distinction in dive fins are paddle vs. split. However, unlike the heel distinctions, which are about how the fin is attached to your foot and therefore usually a matter of comfort and lesser personal preferences, paddle vs. split fin issues can have a serious impact on your finning.

Click here to see the complete set of fin reviews from Dive Gear Reviews

Paddle Fins

Paddle fins are the basic, standard type. They work as water shovels, using their large, broad surface to push water back and you forward.

The key characteristic of the paddle design vis-a-vis split fins is how stiff and rigid it is underwater, since that stiffness points straight to most of the paddle’s pros and cons. On the downside, straight paddle fins with no frills demand considerable energy on the return and after the kick. They also place more stress on the legs and the ankle, which can lead to cramps or aggravate pre-existing physical problems (such as an unstable ankle joint for an old break).

However, because they are stiff water shovels, they allow for more maneuverability and control underwater. That stiff feeling translates into a better feel from the feet for what your finning is doing, and the wider cross-section of the paddle makes pivoting easier. Paddles are at their best on divers who make many turns and other changes of direction, and for this reason are favored by cave and wreck divers, or just about anyone who needs to work in a confined space. Some say they have better accelerating characteristics as well.

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Dive gear companies have invested a lot of money in improving the performance of paddle fins and reducing their downside. One type of paddle fin improvement is one or more water vents. Paddle fins with these vents are often called “jet fins.” The angled vents allow water to flow through on the return, but not during the kick. Some divers swear by jet-style fins, but whether the vents even work has been called into question in some laboratory studies. Another frill for paddle fins is the addition of a flexible, rubberized center section.

Split Fins

Split fins get their name from the split down the middle of the paddle, allowing the two halves to divide under pressure. Where paddle fins are stiff, split fins are supple. The main virtue is minimizing resistance on the return, which saves energy underwater. They also produce much less strain on the ankles and legs.

The suppleness of split fins has its drawbacks. The lack of a stiff platform makes sudden, fine maneuvers difficult or even impossible. Frog kicking, for example, is much more difficult in split fins. Obviously, if resistance on the return is minimal, split fins are useless for breaking or finning in reverse. They also have a hard time in strong currents, making them a poor choice for drift diving.

You might be asking “if split fins aren’t good in enclosed spaces and strong currents, then what good are they?” The answer is on most reef dives. Split fins shine in calm waters where a diver can fin forward in more or less a straight line for the most part, and when she must turn, can afford a wide turning curve. Under those circumstances, split fins make finning around a very low energy, low impact experience

Some claim the split fin design works like a propeller in the flutter kick, twisting around and providing extra propulsive power. As with the claims associated with the aforementioned water jets, the jury is still out on that one. Some divers, manufacturers and reviewers swear by this effect, but there are contravening laboratory studies that disagree.