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Diving Fundamentals: Scuba Finning Techniques

Passing your Open Water course is not the end of learning how to fin well — it’s the beginning. The best divers know how to frog kick, helicopter turn and reverse fin. Here’s why and how to apply these scuba finning techniques.

Finning, like walking or running, is something we can all do. Propelling ourselves efficiently in the water is a key aspect of diving. However, much like running, that doesn’t mean that we all do it well or use the best techniques.

Scuba Finning Techniques — the Flutter Kick

Cast your mind back to your initial Open Water training. You probably learned the flutter kick — long, slow strokes up and down with your fins. It’s the easiest and most instinctive of the scuba finning techniques. And, if you’re in a hurry or fighting against a strong current, a quick and powerful flutter kick is arguably the fastest way to get from point A to point B.

The flutter kick is a perfectly acceptable way to propel yourself through the water. It’s the kick you’ll use most frequently as a diver. However, for some types of diving, and particularly when you’re maneuvering in close quarters, the flutter kick is less suitable.

Here are three alternative finning techniques, why you should learn them, where you might apply them, and how you can begin to practice them.

The Frog Kick

Chances are that if you watch an experienced guide, divemaster or instructor in the water, they’ll use the frog kick  to fin forward under normal circumstances. The frog kick has various benefits over the flutter kick, such as:

a) You use less energy and create less drag. This reduces your gas consumption, which means you may be able to extend your dive time.

b) The frog kick’s wake goes backward rather than up and down, which means you’re less likely to disturb delicate wildlife or bottom compositions. This is more environmentally friendly and, in silty and/or wreck environments, less likely to cause visibility problems for you and the rest of your dive team.

c) Using the frog kick means you can put on the brakes by stopping mid-stroke and use the drag of your fins to slow down. This means you’re safer and more elegant when diving in a group, and less likely to bump into someone.

How to do it: Begin by bending both knees at a 90-degree angle outward and upward so that your fins’ blades are not dragging the water. Then, spread the lower legs apart horizontally, allowing your fins to come parallel with the bottom. Next, straighten out the legs while thrusting the fins rear-ward in a smooth bowing, half-moon shape before almost (but not quite) clapping them together.

The Reverse-Fin or Back Kick

Experienced divers the world over use the reverse-fin or back kick, which facilitates backward motion in the water. This avoids embarrassing and energy inefficient hand-sculling or arm- and hand-flapping to move backwards. Benefits of the reverse-fin include:

a) You can get close to delicate marine life safely and move away again without disturbing the surrounding environment. It’s kinder to the environment and allows you to observe a critter or take a photo without damaging the surrounding reef with a hand or propping yourself up with a pointer.

b) You can back out of situations in confined spaces or in close quarters with other divers. If you’re too close to another diver or, alternatively, looked inside a swim-through or wreck and decided to abort before entering, you can back out.

How to do it: Begin with your legs straight back and your ankles together. Next, flex your ankles and lower legs outward. Draw the angled fin tips outward by spreading your knees and pulling the fins back toward the upper body, pulling the water toward your torso.

The Helicopter Turn

The handy helicopter turn allows you to pivot or rotate about an axis through the center of the body without moving from the optimal flat, horizontal, trimmed diving position.

This technique lets you change direction and look behind you without changing your water position. It’s particularly useful in the following circumstances:

a) When in a confined space, such as a wreck, or over a delicate bottom where you need to be careful with your fins.

b) When you’re diving in a drysuit and moving into a vertical position means the gas can travel around the suit’s extremities, adversely affecting your control and buoyancy.

c) In a twin-set, side-mounts, or technical set-up where there is more weight transfer, the helicopter turn allows you to maintain optimum trim. You can also check on your buddies or the rest of the dive team without compromising your position.

How to do it: Slowly move your fins apart horizontally in an opposing back and forth motion. At the same time, rotate your ankles and fin blades around their own turning point. 

You won’t master these scuba finning techniques overnight, but after practice you can apply them in open water. Not only will you become a smoother, safer diver, you’ll have more fun, too.