Small changes can make a huge difference…
This is the mantra which runs through pretty much all of freediving training. There are no magic tricks, no secrets, its all about refining technique and yourself to the point where you can exceed your and others expectations.
Finning is an element which is quickly taken to hand on a freediving course, but for many in remains a persistent failing, even after courses and training, despite its importance… after all, this is how we actually get to explore the underwater world.
Freediving fins work by pushing water backwards, in the opposite direction of travel (as do all fins), in order to push the diver forward. If the diver doesnt fin correctly then the water will not be pushed backwards, but will instead travel in other less efficient directions. Unlike scuba or snorkeling fins, freediving fins fail pretty abysmally at pushing the diver forward if the diver does anything but ‘proper’ technique. Scuba divers often use frog kicks, flutter kicks… all sorts of kicks will push them forward. The same kicks if used with freediving fins often result in wasted energy and are too slow for efficient freediving.
Here is the basic rule….
Freediving finning technique is from the hip with a straight leg, with a mid-sized amplitude and a steady relaxed speed.
So… lets break that down. (This is for bi-fins, monofinning is a much longer story all together)
From the hip with a straight leg…
When your leg is straight throughout the kick cycle it allows the fin to flex at an angle which lets the water spill off it, backwards… in the direction we want it to go. If you bend your knee too much (a slight, soft bend is fine) then the blade no longer does this and the diver ends up either bicycle kicking in the water or having to ‘spoon’the water back on the forward kick. Whatever happens, the water will still try to leave at the tip of the blade, this means that the water not only travels backwards but more-so it travels at 45 degrees, at the angle of the bent leg. This is not backwards… this is… sideways…. This poor technique will often result in the diver pushing through the water in a ‘bent’ shape and will push them in to the dive line (if they are diving on the line), increasing the overall effort for the dive. The bent leg technique will also mean that the return kick offers little to no forward momentum, thereby reducing the divers efficiency by about 25%.
with a mid-sized amplitude and a steady relaxed speed…
The most common failing is a fast kick with a small amplitude. This makes the fin blade ripple along its length, rather than bend and push the water backwards. With a kick like this the diver is expending a lot of energy with very little return. Kick speed and amplitude are directly related to the size of the fin. A small fin, like a bodyboarders fin, works best with a fast kick, a snorkeling fin is a jack of all trades to some extent and inhabits a middle ground in relation to amplitude and speed, whilst the freedivers fin being often about 1m+ long has to be used with a slow ‘syrupy’ kick. So as a basic rule keep your fin amplitude at approximately the vertical equivalent to your shoulders width apart, and the kick speed to a steady count… imagine a metronome in your head with a beat of somewhere between 60 and 70 bpm.
Here’s to proper finning!
Proper finning will make your diving that more efficient. You will go deeper and stay there longer by not wasting energy as you get there. Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg, you will learn a lot more from a full course, but its something to get you going for the moment. Why not get a buddy to film your technique as it often highlights some pretty obvious flaws. Watch youtube videos of the pros, seeing how often they kick, watching the flex of the fin etc etc. Once you have the technique down, not only will it improve your diving but you will actually look better too! Its one of those unfortunate but accurate rules, but a freediver who ‘looks’ good underwater, is often using excellent technique.
Shallow I know…. or is it deep?