Stab Magazine | Stab's Ultimate Bodysurfing Fin Guide

Stab’s Ultimate Bodysurfing Fin Guide

Helping you break your neck in shorebreak tubes, one kick at a time. 

Words by stab

Bodysurfing isn’t cool.

It’s amazingly fun and I’ve never understood why more people don’t embrace it, but it’s not something that’s going to win you points with the boys or leave the ladies coo-cooing over your skills.

At the end of the day, it’s a great way to waste your time playing in the ocean. Not even whomping close-outs, crippling hangovers, or mild intoxication can stand in the way of a bodysurf session. It’s great exercise, requires wave knowledge and positioning skills beyond that of a surfboard, and points toward true ocean knowledge.

Though bodysurfing doesn’t exactly make for great viewing. As the great Mark Cunningham has pointed out many times, the action takes place underwater. It’s something to do, to feel, but rarely to watch.

 

Barack Obama Bodysurfing 2

Bodysurfing is Presidential as fuck.

What we’re looking for in a fin:

Comfort/Fit: How good do they feel on your feet? How well can you rely on the recommended sizing? The most important factor of a pair of fins is whether they fit, but not all foot pockets are created equal. As with wetsuits, it’s difficult to tell whether fins will fit without trying them on. But not everyone has access to multiple shops with large selections (such as those of us on Kauai). As such the following tests reflect my own, size 12, feet. Which are covered in scars and callouses and are not very nice to look at.

Thrust: How fast are the fins? Speed while swimming is important, but so is the ability to accelerate quickly with one to two explosive kicks under the lip.

Performance: How do they work on a wave? Do they track too much? Is there drag?

Testing criteria: Every set, save one (we’ll cover that later), was tested through multiple sessions in surf ranging from chest high to overhead. Some pairs required adjustments to kick style, or a session or two in order for my feet to adapt (whether it’s the fins breaking in or my feet adjusting I do not know.)

Note: While foot pocket drainage is a common element used to market fins it was not a factor considered when evaluating them. Some do work better than others, but not a single pair actually drained perfectly.  No matter what you’re popping them off and shaking them out. It’s not a big deal.

Viper Mike Stewart

Rory’s first choice: The Viper Mike Stewart.

Viper Mike Stewart

MSRP: $62.99

Size Tested: XL

Comfort/Fit: Large is slightly too small. XL is a hair too big. A pair of 1mm booties solved the problem and left me with my personal favorite fins.

Thrust: Less thrust than many of the others, the MS Vipers are definitely better suited for strong swimmers. While their top end speed is lower, they accelerate amazingly. Best suited for powerful surf. If you’re looking for a pair of dork-around-in-small-beachbreak, snorkel-once-in-a-while fins, there are better options.

Performance: Absolutely amazing on a wave. Zero drag, the lack of rails makes trim line adjustments a breeze. These are kick-ass fins for people who know how to bodysurf.

Analysis: The MS Vipers are my favorite pair of fins, hands down. The only downside is the sizing and the fact that I hate wearing booties. It’s an easy fix and pocket pads will be glued-in shortly.

Ally fins

Rory’s Choice (Honorable Mention): Ally Fins

Ally Fins

MSRP: $49.99

Size Tested: Large

Comfort/Fit: Perfectly snug. No room for booties or heel pad, but they weren’t necessary as the fins stayed put throughout the day. No chafing at all. The ankle ends a little higher than I like and the heel strap is slightly wider than is strictly comfortable. They’re on the narrower side, and very stiff, which gave me fairly bad foot cramps during the first two sessions. But once my feet adjusted it was all good.

Thrust: Angled, shorter blades make for less power while swimming distance, but are great for generating short bursts of speed.

Performance: All of the downsides where comfort is concerned turned into assets on the wave. Thick heel strap kept them on my feet. On the wave face was where they really excelled. The shape allowed me to slide sideways down the face, but the angled tip would bite when needed, allowing me to accelerate or slow down as needed. Stiff fins made it easier to adjust trim.

Sick colorways available. Cool looking shit works better. It’s a fact. Ally sent me a couple pairs, Ashton snaked the coolest looking ones when I brought them to Oahu.

It was a toss-up between these and the MS Vipers for the top spot. The Viper’s edged them out solely on a matter of comfort. The foot pocket on these guys are just a hair too narrow. But, god damn, are they great fins.

Analysis: Highly recommended for advanced bodysurfers and strong swimmers. Might be a bit too unforgiving for tenderfoot types.

kpaloa Tritao

Most Comfortable: Kpaloa Titan

Kpaloa Titan

MSRP: R$399 (about USD $100)

Size Tested: XL

Comfort/Fit: The most comfortable pair of fins I have ever worn, bar none. They fit perfectly, the soft rubber felt like my feet were being kissed by angels. Like I was wearing a brand new pair of socks on a cold Christmas morning. Like I’d smeared peanut butter between my toes and let my dog go to town.

Thrust: The downside to soft rubber is a reduction in power. Kpaloa ameliorates this problem with small rails running the length of the blade, but it still can’t match the power that less comfortable fins provide.

Performance: Almost no drag or tracking, I had the most fun in smaller surf wearing the Titans.

Analysis: Kpaloa is a Brazilian company and it might be hard to find a pair of Titans outside that country. But, if you can, you should buy a pair. They’re the type of fin that’s a daily driver, if for no other reason than the insane comfort. They’re the pair you keep in your car for when you’ve just gotta take a quick dip to wash off life’s daily grime.

dafins

Best All-Around: Da Fin

Da Fin 

MSRP: $65.95

Size Tested: Large

Comfort/Fit: Very comfortable, a near perfect fit.

Thrust: The wide blade and rails make for fins that swim very fast when using a shallow flutter kick. The only problem is their tendency to flex and distribute load across the toes during wide, hard, kicks when you’re looking for quick acceleration. This led to multiple instances when I strained my extensor digitorum, the tendons on top of my feet.

Performance: Tons of power, very little drag, small rails that reduce tracking. The Da Fins are the best for swimming, and damn near the top for wave riding.

Analysis: Da Fins are endorsed by the Hawaii Lifeguard Association, the United States Life Saving Association, and the fin of choice for the vast majority of water photogs on the North Shore. They’re endorsed by Mark Cunningham! They’re definitely the cool-kid brand in Hawaii and, probably, the best all-around fin on the market. But the strain on my tendons is too much, and an informal survey among water photographers on Oahu showed that, while the problem isn’t common, I’m not the only person to struggle with it.

yucca fins

Raddest Looking: Yucca Fins

Yucca 

MSRP: $80

Size Tested: X-Large

Comfort/Fit: With wider foot pockets than average, had Mr. Sean Starky not added foot pocket and heel padding to the two sets he sent my way I may not have liked them. But he did, so I did. It’s a recommended upgrade to anyone interested in them.

I was provided both the soft and standard flex fins, of which my favorite was the soft. The large, full length, rail stiffened up the softer rubber, distributing the load across my entire foot, making them a joy to use.

Thrust: Very fast swimmers with tons of propulsion. The larger blade detracted a bit from the ability to accelerate, but not a degree that hampered their efficacy.

Performance: The combination of surface area and rail created a tendency to track, making small adjustments at speed more difficult. But they are great all-around fins, good for surf both tiny and juicy.

Analysis: Not only do the Yucca’s work well, they look sick. The Yuccas were the brand that scored highest in the under-arm-surfboard-factor- i.e. they possess an ineffable je ne sais quois that makes them work better because you believe in them.

They’re also very buoyant, unlike many brands that advertise the fact but are in reality only slightly more than neutral. It’s a nice factor if one gets sucked off your feet and you need to go looking.

leblon

Most interesting: Leblon Fins

Leblon 

MSRP: $99.00

Size Tested: Large

Comfort/Fit: Slightly too big for my feet. Leblon is a smaller company and does not, unfortunately, offer a wide range of sizes.

Thrust: The fastest set of fins, without a doubt. Leblon fins were designed by JSC Mauricio based on knowledge he gained from involvement in the delightfully eccentric sport of competitive fin swimming, which is essentially underwater racing. They are meant to be used with a dolphin kick approach, the most efficient way one can move through the water.

Performance: Fast enough to outrun a smaller wave, but their massive size made adjustments of the wave face difficult. They worked best in small surf and rolling waves.

Analysis: Leblon fins have true potential, but the necessary adjustments to swimming style may prove too much for the average person. When using your core to dolphin kick you fly, as they’re essentially a bifurcated monofin. But during head-up swimming, or while treading water, the massive blades were tough on my knees and ankles. They’re a fun addition to someone’s fin quiver (is that a thing?) but I can’t see them being daily blades for the average person.

DMC repellor

The Cinderella Story: DMC Repellor Fins

DMC Repellor 

MSRP: $80

Size Tested: XL

Comfort/Fit: Very soft rubber. Much too big for my feet, even with booties on.

Thrust: Tons of surface area and large angled rails make for a fin that swims fast.

Performance: Unfortunately, the fact that my feet were swimming in the fins led to DMC getting the short end of the stick, testing-wise. They were fun in waist to chest high closeouts, but barely stayed on once I got moving.

Analysis: The DMC Repellors have a ton of potential, especially for those who prefer larger bladed fins. If I didn’t live in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and had the opportunity to try out multiple sizes, I think I would have loved them.

churchill slashers

Walmart Special: Churchill Slashers

Churchill Slashers 

MSRP: $25 on sale at Walmart

Size Tested: Large

Comfort/Fit: They’re fine.

Thrust: Decent

Performance: Meh.

Analysis: I bought these at Walmart for $25 many years ago. They’re a decent value at the price I paid. They’re only in this review because I wanted an even number and they were on-hand.  

If you afford something better, buy it.

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