Splits vs. Paddles - Curly's Take

Posted: Feb 26, 2014

After my first fin blog, I thought I would spend some time in a split fin and see what all the fuss is about.  I decided to try a pair of the TUSA X-pert Zoom split fins we have in rental.I decided to test them for just over two weeks, as I felt that this would be enough time to fully acclimate to them and I dove them exclusively to make as fair as an assessment as possible.

xpert zoom finsMy first dive with them was at Makena Landing, and as soon as I strapped them on, I started laughing about how easy these fins are to kick! Once we dropped down, there was some moderate surge. My first seat-of-the-pants “tests” were to see how they would accelerate and also to see how they did with a frog kick.  Using a quick flutter kick, they seemed to get me up to speed fine and also worked okay with the frog kick. I did not, however, get as much "glide" out of each frog kick as I do with the Aqualung X-Shots.  Quickly, I realized that it was not the "going" that was the problem, but the stopping!  With my Aqualung blade fins, I can hook my feet like a mini flare and stop and/or even back up a bit, which is very helpful in surgey conditions, especially when I’m trying to take a picture of something.  When it comes to stopping, these TUSA Splits make me feel like a freight train… I just keep on rolling, when compared to the Aqualung X-shots.  

In addition, I immediately noticed a difference in maneuverability.  With paddle fins, I find it very easy to use little movements to help turn and maneuver my body.  I don’t find the splits to be nearly as effective at this and much more exaggerated movements are necessary for the same effect.  

The other day I heard a co-worker, Sara, say something very similar to one of our customers in one of her fin briefings. She said that, for her, the blade fins work much better when trying to take photographs.  It is easier for her to stabilize herself with them to get the shot.  She has also found that she can actually "kick through" the split fins. She acknowledged that the smaller flutter kick is very efficient style for split fins, but for her, if she tried to use a larger more powerful kick, the fins seem to lose efficiency.

One Week Update: 

I was on the Maui Diamond II and as soon as we jumped in at Molokini, on the Enenui curly xpert zoomside, there was a current going around the point.  We had to kick really hard to stay inside the crater and get out of the current.  I was kicking at least 80% of the time to make any forward progress.  It is hard to say if split fins are, in fact, harder to get the same propulsion out of without a back to back test (keep reading), but it was disconcerting that I didn't feel like I could not progress easily. 

Later that day, during a navigation class, one of my students decided to zig instead of zag and I had to chase him down.  Kicking as hard as I could, I could not catch him.  Tonight, I noticed that my legs were sore!  This is an unusual thing for me and I am surprised by it because I have done just as much kicking with paddle fins on other days and not had lactic acid buildup. 

Two Week Update:

One of the other things that I have a hard time with is that the split tips (on the same fin) of the X-pert Zoom fins can hit each other and it feels like you’re kicking either your dive buddy or the bottom. I don't know how someone could get used to this.

Yesterday, I was on the boat again and I tried my Aqualung X-Shots for the first time in almost 2 weeks.  It made me laugh AGAIN because now, in comparison to the splits I’d been wearing, it felt like I could not move my legs! By the time I got underwater it started feeling normal again and it confirmed my previous thoughts. My movements are much slower and I do have a lot more gliding with each kick.  In addition, as an instructor, having the extra thrust on tap and increased maneuverability is very nice (in case one of my students zigs). 

Three Week Update:

curly xshotI did the measured 100 foot swim with both my Aqualung X-Shots and the TUSA X-Pert Zooms.  I did two lengths with each set of fins and averaged their number of kicks.  The results actually surprised me.  The TUSAs only required an extra two kicks over the X-Shots and they did the distance in virtually the same time.  So when presented with this "data", I feel like the performance of the two fins is very close when regulated to a straight line, moderate paced, standard kick.  For me, the X-Shots are the better fin because of all the other things that it does better.  Stopping, maneuverability, and more efficient frog kick all make me want to stay with the X-Shots.

A quick follow up:

I just got out of the water from a dive and my X-Shots gave me a surprise.  I did an extremely quick direction reversal to correct one of my divers and my superhumanly powerful legs almost pulled my feet out of the fins.  This is the second time this has happened to me.  The spring straps on the X-Shots are very nice for getting them on and off, but their tension seems a little weak for purposes of retention.  I have a size 12 shoe and have the extra large X Shots, so this may not be the case with a bigger footed person or different foot size/fin combinations.  It is enough to make me consider putting standard straps on my X-Shots.

Apollo Bio FinsMy wife recently got certified and I had her try a pair of Hotshot fins like Sara's. Within a short time, she started getting foot cramps.  I then had her try a pair of Apollo Bio Fins. These are a very soft rubber split fin that do a good job of pushing a diver through the water without placing a large load on muscles and joints.  This is a perfect fit for her and a great example that different people are looking for different qualities in their fins.

Final Conclusions:

For me, the X-pert Zooms are a very nice fin, very durable, and they kick REAL EASY! If you want to try them out (or the X-Shots) you can rent them from us and decide for yourself…but you know I’ll be diving my X-Shots!

Aloha, Curly

Are you a human? If so, please enter the text displayed in the following image

March 6, 2014 @ 12:26 pm

UPDATE!! Aqualung sent me the next shorter pair of spring straps to try (the men's medium). They are awesome.. Perfect for my size 12's and keeps the fins firmly anchored on my feet. I have only done one dive with them but are a solid worthwhile improvement for me.

March 1, 2014 @ 6:30 pm

A very excellent comparison! It just goes to show that we stick with what we know, so its good that you took the time to really compare the different fins. I'm also glad that you pointed out that we're all different and fin choice hugely depends on personal opinion... I'll stick with my Hotshots ;)

February 28, 2014 @ 5:10 pm

Since this blog has posted, I talked to Chris, our Rep. from ALP, has informed my that you can get 4 different length springs that you can get to fine tune your fit. Thanks for all the feedback: Curly

Todd Winn
February 27, 2014 @ 8:32 pm

Curley, If the spring straps on your X shots are the standard variety you can increase the tension by shortening the spring.

February 27, 2014 @ 4:40 pm

Thanks for the post! Your comparison was very interesting. As far as your spring straps are concerned, you can get different lengths for them (aftermarket) or some folks here here in CA are starting to use bungee cord custom-cut to length (depends on your fin's hardware setup). Great post though!!

Rick Mayhew
February 26, 2014 @ 4:35 pm

Great report, Curly. Thanks for putting this together. The temperature will get down to 16 degrees tonight in St. Louis. Shelly says any fin in warm water, whether it cramps, or won't stop quickly, etc. would be fine with her!

Megan Denny
February 26, 2014 @ 12:15 pm

Awesome post, Curly! It was fun + science! Thanks for doing the "legwork" in evaluating split fins verus blades.