THERE was a time when all fins were made from heavy black rubber. You put them on your feet and forgot about them. Then a few innovative manufacturers started to use lightweight thermoplastics, which meant brighter colours and more interesting designs - and a greater choice for the diver.
Italian manufacturer Mares, benefiting from a huge investment from its parent company, poured money into research and development and came up with the Plana Avanti. It used a mixture of hard and soft compounds to get a blade that flexed in a predetermined way. In the strap-fin version, the foot pocket was full-length to cover the foot right up to the hilt. Mares soon captured the market lead and went on to develop the Plana Avanti Quattro.
Meanwhile, other manufacturers went back to the drawing board. Arch-rival Cressi-Sub invented the Frog fin with a design that put the thrust firmly onto the top of the foot - the way Alan Shearer would like it! Wenoka in America introduced variable flex with optional blade-strengthening inserts.
Oceanic came up with V-drive fins, rigid with a strongly defined "V" profile. Technisub produced the Idea3 fin, a sexy-looking product with a blade that had a spooning effect. And Zeagle produced their massive Raptor fins, with weights built into the fin tip for a pendulum action.
These are all high-quality products at a high price. There are plenty of less expensive fins on the market and all the above manufacturers offer them. US Divers, Typhoon, and IST fins - which come from Taiwan - and Tusa, with their asymmetrical Tabata fins, are all popular makes too.
Then there is the Force fin, an avant garde design from California. Its inventor Bob Evans took a good look at the way fish move and decided that every other manufacturer had got it wrong. Force fins are made from a solid piece of polyurethane, the toughest plastic known to man. They have a breadth greater than their length, and they require an entirely different technique to other fins - you either love them or hate them. Most fins come in slipper or strap-fin versions. Slipper fins are useful for those who dive barefooted, such as snorkellers and divers in hot countries, and for pool training. Strap-fins are used with boots, and suit those who use drysuits or who tend to dive off boats and rocky shorelines - or even seaside carparks - where they are likely to knock their feet.
Fins for divers tend to be more compact than fins designed specifically for snorkellers, who prefer the thrust provided by super-long fins such as the Cressi-Sub Gara 2000. Divers tend to fin for much longer periods of time over greater distances. Nearly all fins today have Fastex-style connectors for their fin straps which make them easy to remove. Mares, however, has gone one step further and introduced a quick-fastening connector that makes it easier to get the fins on, too.
Prices can vary from as little as £11 to a surprising £200 a pair, and you can still get the old black rubber fins if you prefer.
It may seem that every manufacturer worth its salt has done scientific testing to prove its fins are best, but in the end the most crucial part of the fin is the body to which it is attached. No fin can be a substitute for a high level of fitness and a good finning technique.