To become a good and safe scuba diver, there’s a wide variety of skills that you need to learn and master. But there are four skills that lie at the basis of everything else, and propulsion (finning) is one of them. This is Part One of my Scuba Fundamentals series, and it’s completely dedicated to scuba diving finning techniques. In this article, you’ll learn how to execute the 4 most important finning techniques, and when to use them!
Using your fins when scuba diving seems pretty straightforward. And although you will mostly do it without even thinking about it, you can certainly do it wrong. And besides correctly executing a certain technique, one technique may be more efficient than the other depending on the situation. But let’s first take a look at why you should care in the first place.
Why are scuba diving finning techniques important?
You may ask yourself, who cares how I use my fins? As long as you’re moving right? Well, not really. Although using proper finning techniques will certainly make you look better underwater, that isn’t the main objective (although it might be for some).
Good finning techniques will not only make you look smoother, they will actually make you smoother. Your movements will be more relaxed and more efficient, and will therefore require less energy. Less energy = less air = longer dives!
But there’s also a safety component: because your fin kicks are less efficient without the proper technique, you may not be able to respond adequately in case of an emergency. Just imagine being out of air and having to hurry yourself to either your buddy or the surface: without proper and efficient fin kicks, you may not be able to reach them in time.
Alright, so proper finning techniques are important. Let’s take a look at the different types of finning techniques and when you should use them!
The most basic and easiest to learn scuba diving finning technique is the flutter kick. This is the technique you learn in your Open Water Course.
How to do the flutter kick
It’s pretty straightforward: in a horizontal swimming position, move your legs up and down in the opposite direction. When one leg goes up, the other goes down. Your legs have to be more or less straight and relaxed, and you move them from the waist.
You’d think that not much can go wrong here, but there are a lot of divers who struggle to do a proper flutter kick. Instead of moving their legs up and down, some people tend to pull their knees towards their belly. This movement is also known as the bicycle kick. It will get you moving (more or less), but as it requires a lot more energy you burn through your air much faster. It also looks really stupid. And there’s an additional complication: when a diver changes into a vertical position and continues to kick by pulling the knees up, he will actually propel himself upwards, which can lead to all kinds of dangerous situations.
The flutter kick is perfect for
- Beginner divers, because it’s the easiest technique to learn
- Swimming in a current; flutter kicks will give you more power than other techniques (when executed correctly)
- Divers with split fins; these type of fins are usually not great for other techniques
As you spend a bit more time underwater, you’ll probably notice that experienced scuba divers often use a different finning technique: the frogkick.
How to do the frogkick
In a horizontal swimming position, bend your knees in a 90 degree angle (as if you were sitting on a chair). Your feet will then be up, but your fins should be parallel to the bottom. To move forward, open the hips, push your knees out, and roll your ankles so your heels are facing each other. Bring your feet together, squeeze the fin tips together and roll your ankles out so they are parallel with the bottom. While you slide through the water, take a short rest and repeat!
The frogkick will give you the biggest control of your body position in the water column. On top of that, this technique allows for a resting phase in between movements, during which you slide forward. Because of that, this is often the preferred finning technique for more experienced divers. It’s also the basis for other scuba diving finning techniques, so before you move on to anything else, make sure you master this one.
The frogkick is perfect for
- Swimming close to a sensitive bottom like corals, or a bottom where you’ll easily stir up sediment. Because your fins don’t get below the rest of your body, you’re less likely to disturb the bottom when you kick.
- Photographers who need to stay steady and still in the same spot.
- Technical divers with heavy equipment. The frog kick requires less energy than the flutter kick. While the flutter kick is usually doable with only one tank, it can easily wear you down when carrying a lot of extra weight.
- Cave and wreck divers, to avoid kicking up sediment in overhead environments.
Reverse kick or back kick
Swimming backwards is probably the hardest of all scuba diving finning techniques to learn. But for many divers it’s also the most rewarding and fun when you finally master it! It’s basically a frogkick performed in reversed order. It usually takes a little bit of practice and a few brain errors before being able to do this.
How to do the reverse kick
To swim backwards, you start in the same position as for the frogkick: horizontal, with your knees in a 90 degree angle and your fins parallel to the bottom. Instead of pushing the knees out, you now start by spreading your fins and legs horizontally behind your body. Roll your ankles so that the bottom of your feet and fins are facing each other. Open your hips and push your knees out. Bring them back together and repeat!
The reverse kick is perfect for
- Backing up when there’s not a lot of space to turn around (for example after you’ve looked at a tiny frogfish). By swimming backwards, you prevent disturbing marine life and kicking other divers in the face.
- Pulling the brake! If you need to stop moving for whatever reason, one reverse kick is usually enough to stop a forward propulsion.
- Divers who are ready to take on a new challenge.
The helicopter turn lets you make a quarter or half turn to either side (or a full turn if you’re feeling silly), while staying in a horizontal body position.
How to do a helicopter turn
There are two ways to do a helicopter turn. The easiest one is by doing a frogkick with only one foot, while keeping the other leg and foot still. A frogkick with your right foot lets you turn to the left, and vice versa. Once you master that technique, you can add your other foot to the mix. Basically, both feet need to make opposite movements at the same time. While one foot moves out, the other moves in. The easiest way to understand what I mean is by watching this video.
By using both feet instead of one, you make the movement even more powerful and efficient. Be prepared for some brain errors when you first start practicing this technique!
The helicopter turn is perfect for
- Divers that want to be as agile as possible, while staying level in the water column.
- Photographers and videographers who want to follow a subject without disturbing the environment.
- Cave- and wreck divers in narrow overhead environments.
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