Scuba Skills Review: Finning Techniques
Once you have the right fins, it's time to get in the water and experiment with different finning techniques. Although finning is a basic skill for scuba divers, many techniques exist and they often lend to different conditions or types of diving. A diver should focus on using their fins as the single means for propulsion. This improves efficiency and reduces the impact on the surrounding environment. Whilst not replacing good buoyancy practice, how you fin will significantly contribute to and help your movement through the water. Below we review some of the more common styles of finning suitable for diving in British Columbia!
The flutter kick is the most basic and commonly used technique for scuba divers. It is the original finning technique and likely the very first method you will learn when diving. Similar to the kicking motion when swimming freestyle, it involves keeping your legs straight and kicking from the hips in a consistent up/down motion. A common mistake when using this technique is to bend and kick from the knee, in a ‘bicycling’ motion. This greatly reduces the efficiency of the technique and will quickly tire you due to the greater effort to propel yourself.
The advantage of the flutter kick is the power it gives you. You can easily dictate how quickly you move through the water by varying the strength you put into each flutter kick. It is the most powerful of all the finning techniques and very useful when needing to swim fast or if diving in a strong current. When ascending you will likely use the flutter kick to give you the initial momentum to control your ascent to the surface.
The disadvantages of this technique is that due to how much power it gives you, the forcefulness of the kick can tire you out or become strenuous, which in turn increases your air consumption. Similarly the vertical motion of both fins does create a large backwash behind you which can kick up any silt or loose debris around you or even damage sea life and coral. That makes it quite unsuitable for any cave or wreck diving where divers often follow each other and good visibility is important.
The frog kick is reminiscent of the breast stroke kick from swimming. It involves bending your knees at a 90⁰ upward and spreading your lower legs apart to make your fins parallel to the bottom. From here your kick both legs out straight whilst moving your fins in an arc until your fins come close together. The frog kick is a large and wide kick, although contains a variation called the modified frog kick, which utilizes just the knee and ankle to make the movement smaller and more suitable to enclosed spaces.
The idea with the frog kick is not to continuously kick, but to kick and glide using the propulsion from the movement. This makes it very efficient and uses less effort and energy helping reduce air consumption. However this does mean that good buoyancy is important to keep yourself controlled when gliding.
The frog kick is commonly used amongst drysuit divers, where a small amount of air in the legs and feet of the drysuit, naturally raise your fins up and help you settle in the frog kick position. Another benefit of the frog kick is that it creates only a small amount of rear horizontal backwash when you kick. This means that when swimming close to the bottom, you barely disturb or kick up any silt, something that divers behind you will be grateful for!
The helicopter kick allows a diver to rotate to the left or right but keeping their body in the same exact position. To use the helicopter kick you rotate your ankle in a circular motion to move the fin blade. Whilst doing this move your legs and fins together and apart in a back-and-forth motion. You will spin on the same axis in the direction that you rotate your ankle. Whilst requiring a bit of practice, this quickly becomes a very useful and natural technique used when diving. It requires only a small amount of effort, but stretching your legs and ankles before diving will certainly help the motion.
The obvious benefit of the helicopter kick is in enclosed or busy spaces where you need to turn around but don’t have much room. Similarly if you want to rotate but don’t want to kick up any silt or debris. Thus this is an ideal finning technique for wreck and cave diving.
Ever wanted to swim backwards whilst scuba diving? Just like reversing a car, this is completed by the reverse kick. This technique is incredibly useful as it allows you to gently back up and move away keeping your body in the same position without using your hands. The reverse kick is essentially performed by reversing the movement of the frog kick. With your legs straight, rotate you ankles and fins outwards and then pull your legs out and towards your upper body by bending your knees. Each kick will gently move and reverse your body.
This technique is one of the hardest finning skills to learn. However, once mastered you can use it to calmly approach and back away from marine life, other divers or when exploring enclosed narrow spaces in wrecks and caves. It also saves energy compared to having to fully rotate your body to turn around and move in the opposite direction.
The best divers will be able to use each of the above finning techniques and will often use a combination of each technique when they dive depending on the conditions or locations they find themselves. All of these techniques should be performed in a slow, calm and rhythmic manner to ensure the most efficient use. This also helps to reduce finning effort and therefore air consumption, giving you longer on each dive. Get in the water and practice each technique and you will be a finning master in no time!
For more information on different finning techniques, you can take the PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy Course. Rowand's Reef Instructors will teach you and make you perform each of these finning techniques as a way to improve your buoyancy and movement through the water.