BESIDES ENDLESS GARAGE-BUILT REBREATHERS, diving breakthroughs sure to be showcased at the Diving Equipment Manufacturers Association Show in the USA every year are fins set to revolutionise the way in which we propel ourselves through the water. That, at least, is what each hopeful manufacturer claims.
We have seen fins that attach to the calves of the swimmer, fins that fold up, fins in psychedelic colours, fins with funny pointed ends, and fins made from clear Perspex. The rest have been instantly forgettable, and none of them ever seem to make it into production.
Or do they I saw some fins more than a year ago that had the blade cantilevered away from the line of the footpocket by means of a couple of integrated struts.
The idea was that, firstly, you could walk while wearing them and, secondly, because the blade was away from the turbulence caused by the leg and fin, they performed better than conventional fins.
I saw them as just another idea from someone intent on improving fins in the way people want to build a better mousetrap, so was surprised when two manufactured pairs of Aileron Fins turned up for review.
One pair had an enclosed slipper-style foot-pocket, while the other was a conventional open-heel design, complete with a strap. Both had a foot-pocket reminiscent of a rubber clog.
The question was, would they provide a boost in performance that would be worth the ridicule I was sure to suffer if I turned up on a liveaboard sporting a pair
The blades seemed similar to those of conventional paddle fins. There were no soft rubber inserts to give lateral flex and provide a scooping effect, and no split to emulate a fast-swimming fish.
My expectation was that they would be as inefficient as an old-fashioned pair of flippers, and with so many good fins on the market, they would really have to prove themselves in the water.
So I decided to give them a try, armed with an underwater speedo and a pair of industry-standard Mares Plana Avanti Quattros for comparison.
I made several runs, swimming my heart out with the speedo held in front of me. Each time, I noted the highest speed I could muster.
And Im afraid the Ailerons failed to keep their promise. The best I could manage was a heart-busting 3.9kmph, and that was the best of many runs (always waiting until I was fully rested before giving it another go).
In contrast, on a single run I achieved an almost effortless 4.6kmph with the Quattros.
Not only that, but while finning at the surface with the Ailerons, I noticed that
I tended to splash more than usual, because the fins tended to break the surface.
The only perceived benefit seems to be the ability to walk easily while wearing them. However, I always say that a diver in the water without fins is endangered - as is the diver out of the water who wears fins. So why walk about

Open-heel style for use with boots in three sizes M-XL (88). Full-foot style for sizes 38 to 45 (41). Four colourways. Namron, 01709 371006

Force Foil & OPS
BOB EVANS IS NOT AN EQUIPMENT MANUFACTURER. He is really an artist, and a passionate one at that.
Born in Monmartre to native Californians who were part of the painting fraternity in Paris after World War Two, Bob returned to America and became a sculptor.
He doesnt chip away at stone, however. Polyurethane is his material of choice and his sculptures are his moulds. Its a material thats so hardwearing, its almost indestructible. You can bend it, and it has such a good memory that it always regains its original shape. Bobs results are designed to be functional. He makes Force fins.
It took some persuading, but I finally managed to convince Bob to allow me to experience his latest ideas for fins, very much work-in-progress, and he sent me examples with two different types of blade to try.
It was a privilege that I suspect few will enjoy until after the fins are in full production.
I dont do new product development, and normally only try products that are available to you in the shops. These fins looked so wacky, however, that I was interested to learn about the ideas behind them.
Bob is somewhat eccentric. He lives his life thinking in terms of how he can improve the humble fin, and has always been at the forefront of fin design technology. He patented a split fin long before anyone else had had the idea,
and has shed many a tear over the success others have seen with it.
Bob was so keen I should appreciate that he was the pioneer of this sort of fin that he sent me copies of the patent, dated 18 October, 1994. So what else did he send me
One set of blades, the Foil Force, offered a rather zany split-fin effect. The other, the OPS, evidently designed for Jean-Michel Cousteau, is the longest, most flexible paddle-style fin you could imagine. If you have seen JMC and his Ocean Adventures team on Discovery Channel, swimming in powerful currents in the passes of the atolls of French Polynesia, you may have noticed their extremely long fins. OPS stands for Oscillating Propulsion System.
The foot-pocket is a derivative of a type Bob calls the Launch Pad. It has a sandal-style upper, made of reinforced ballistic cloth, that wraps around the foot and is held tight
with Velcro. It is secured using three straps and pinch-clips, so that you can really tighten it to your bare foot or boot.
The upper is laced to the polyurethane base, which has a non-slip pad securely attached on the underside. It could do with an elastic strap at the heel, as on Force Pro fins. I found that having to tighten a strap with a pinch-clip and buckle proved less than easy in the cramped conditions of a bucking RIB.
The smooth underside parts are shaped with holes to avoid that feeling of your feet being sucked onto a smooth, wet deck. The polyurethane base ends in two prongs onto which you can mount your choice of blade.

IT DOESNT STOP THERE. By choosing the degree of rotation where the blades are mounted, you can alter the split effect of the foils or vary the stiffness and scooping effect of the one-piece OPS blade. A ratchet effect allows you to make in-water adjustments to these settings as you go, so altering the efficacy of the fin.
Say youre cruising along the reef, minding your own business, and you stumble into a whale shark. You simply choose a higher gear in order to keep up!
Thats the theory. I set off to see how both sets of Force fins would perform in reality, diving around the Brothers in the Egyptian Red Sea from mv Hurricane, DIVERs Liveaboard of the Year.
With the OPS fins, I expected the flexibility of the blade to translate into ease of effort, but when I really gave it some wellie I could only just catch another diver with standard-issue Italian-made fins who was dragging an SMB and unaware of the competition.
These overlong blades are certainly not suitable for night dives or for use within the confines of a wreck!
I began to suspect that they had been made for their visual appearance in the Ocean Adventures programmes rather than for their effectiveness in the water.
With the Foil Force fins, I found new muscles I didnt know I had. In many ways, they were far more effective than the OPS variant. The ski-like bindings were difficult to fit tightly to my feet and the spare webbing flapped, but there was never any danger of the fins coming off. They are really designed for use with a drysuit boot, rather than the wetsuit boot I was using.
I could keep up with other divers, but had to make twice as many finstrokes, using a fast, short flutter-kick. There was no danger of me overtaking anyone.
I made an heroic swim the length of the bigger Brother Island from the wreck of the Aida 2, all the way back to the bay with the jetty and the schooling flagfish, and then on to Hurricane, moored at the southern end of the island. The Foil Force blades were set throughout for maximum effort.
When adjusted to widen the gap between the two blades, finning took less effort but efficacy was reduced.
I find that wearing ordinary nylon socks under my wetsuit boots removes any risk of sore feet over a succession of dives. To give you an idea how much I had to work, I wore holes in the sides of my socks within a week. Thats a first.
Rotating the blades in their mounts made finning less strenuous and more comfortable but, again, less effective. These Foil Force fins really suit divers with short legs and strong thigh muscles.
When finning on my back on the surface, I can usually detect some surface disturbance from the water thrust away by my fins. With the Foil Forces, there was no such telltale turbulence.
They may be sexy-looking but both sets of fins were exceedingly slippery underfoot in the RIB, and provide nothing with which to brace yourself, so I ended up hanging on for dear life to the grab ropes during bumpy rides.
These fins are still in development.
I think Bob will be adjusting the design before he launches them. Meanwhile, if you want a truly effective pair of Force fins, get yourself some Accelerators.
You wont be disappointed.
Thanks to Australian Fisheries Technician and Education Officer for the NSW Dept of Primary Industries Justin Gilligan, for taking time out from his Red Sea holiday to photograph
me using the fins - and for trusting me not to drop his camera while he used mine.

Force Fins Foil Force and OPS fins:
Still under development. www.forcefins.com

Scubapro Twin Jet Max
ALTOGETHER MORE CONVENTIONAL are these new Scubapro fins, another variant of its Natures Wing split-fin design. I was going to be doing some high-speed snorkelling in Tanzanian waters to photograph whale sharks and would depend on my fins to do the business. Based on Scubapros claims, these were the ones I chose.
My hunch proved right, because the Twin Jet Max seemed almost identical to the Atomic split fin I had previously tested. It looked likely to be effective and matched the results I had achieved with both the classic Mares Plana Avanti Quattro and the heavy-duty Apollo Biofin Pro XT all-rubber split fin.
As on both Apollo and Atomic fins, heavyweight side-rails keep the massive blade of the Twin Jet Max rigid at the sides, while the split allows the blades to bend inwards as you apply pressure. Unlike those worthy rivals, these fins are vented between blade and foot-pocket, just like the original heavy-duty Jet fins.

It encompassed my foot right up to and including the heel, so all my effort came from my thighs, with no trace of calf or shin cramps on long high-speed chases.
There was plenty of room in the foot-pockets for my drysuit boots, too. The rubber heel straps are nothing special, and the first thing I would do in private use would be to replace them with stainless-steel spring straps.
Twin Jet Max fins are not just big - theyre the biggest. In size XL they measure 67cm overall, with a blade that is a super-size 34-23cm. They can certainly shovel some water. The only problem is fitting them in a dive bag and, at nearly 3kg a pair, youll need to bear your weight allowance in mind.
Normally test gear is sent for use and return, but I won these during a press launch, competing against 35 other diving journalists in a game of memory. Memory Me It just shows what you can achieve when all around you are freeloading on booze. Im keeping them too - theyd be on Ebay if they were no good!
Scubapro also let me have a Galileo Sol computer, which builds the wearers heart-rate into its deco calculations. This revealed that on dives using the Twin Jet Max fins my heart-rate dropped to an average of 70bpm, whereas on the previous trip with less good fins it had been in the mid-80s.
Checking with an underwater speedometer in the pool, I found that I could easily achieve 4.8kmph, which is pretty good for me, and slightly better than with the Plana Avanti Quattros.
In fact I was beating 3kmph while gently finning up to the start line. On past fin comparison tests, that was all that could be achieved with some fins!
My verdict is that these are serious fins that command a high price.
One last thing - before you alter the pitch of the prop, tune the motor. You cant expect good performance out of any fin, wacky or conventional, unless you are fit.

Scubapro Twin Jet Max:
Colours red, blue and lime. Sizes S, M, L and XL, 150. www.scubapro-uwatec.com