President, United States Lifesaving Association
Question: Are Da Fin swim fins a good choice for lifeguards?
Opinion: These fins appear to be clearly superior in almost every aspect.
The United States Lifesaving Association recently entered into a sponsorship relationship with the manufacturers of Da Fin, a new type of swim fin designed by body surfers and lifeguards. As part of this relationship, USLA receives some financial support and USLA members receive a substantial discount on the product (www.dafin.com – “USLA Members”).
I recently had the chance to field test a model of Da Fin called the “North Shore,” which is an earlier model, somewhat stiffer than that currently offered. The current models are a bit more flexible and believed to be better tuned to the needs of lifeguards. Based on my experience, I would personally strongly recommend that all lifeguards consider this fin for their professional and personal use.
I served 22 years as a professional ocean lifeguard in San Diego, California (www.lifesaver1.com). Although the majority of my service was as a supervisor or manager, with 13 years as Lifeguard Chief, I had the occasion to perform several hundred rescues (my estimate), predominately during the early years of my career. These included routine rescues, multiple victim rescues, and rescues in large surf up to 20 feet (mostly in the 1982 – 1983 El Nino year). In our lifeguard service, all lifeguards were taught and effectively required to use Voit Duckfeet (or similar knockoffs) on all rescues. We were expected to keep our fins and RFDs with us at all times. The general benefits of Duckfeet over others available at the time included ease of donning, positive buoyancy, ruggedness, and wide availability.
With this background and bias, I field tested the aforementioned Da Fin model in the British Virgin Islands from 26 May to 3 June 2007. I used them recreationally, not in rescue, while swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving.
Size and Portability
Da Fin is substantially smaller and lighter than alternatives with which I am familiar. They crush almost flat. This makes them easier to tuck into a bag, locker, or other small space. I found that they fit into my nylon airline carry-on briefcase quite easily. DaFin weighs about one pound less than my pair of Duckfeet (about 30% less), are a little wider and are much shorter. I found myself carrying them in one hand, with the fins bottom to bottom. The ridge on the sides provide a natural grip, or you can hold them through the ankle straps.
Comfort and Ease of Donning
Da Fin has an extraordinarily soft foot pocket. They are very comfortable and I had no rub spots or blisters when using them. In fact, I had no discomfort at all. I contrast this to my Duckfeet, which often left abrasions or even bleeding areas on my feet where they rubbed. I consider the comfort level of Da Fin clearly superior to any others I have used. These fins were very easy to don.
DaFin appears to provide propulsion that is at least equivalent to other fins I have used. This however, is a very difficult thing to judge.
I tried Da Fin in a couple of high speed swims to try to simulate a rescue scenario. I estimated my speed to be similar to Duckfeet. In flat water, there is a moderate tendency with the DaFin North Shore model for the fin to slap the surface. This particular model is quite stiff. Current models which are less stiff should exhibit less or none of this tendency. Although I did not use this fin in surf, it should be noted that the fin appears to have been designed primarily with body surfing in mind, notably in big surf areas of Hawaii. Hence, it could be expected to do well in such conditions.
Scuba divers tend toward large and expensive fins. Most scuba diving however, involves fairly subtle and rhythmic kicking, as the scuba diver endeavors to minimize exertion, thereby oxygen, and thus maximize bottom time. I found Da Fin eminently suitable for scuba diving and much easier to deal with than the typical UDT size fins commonly used by some divers. This includes a couple of dives up to about 80 feet. Scuba diving involves a lot of bulky gear. Using Da Fin made it easier, with no apparent give-back in performance.
When snorkeling, one spends most of the time on the surface and occasionally free dives. In my case, I was free diving up to about 60 feet (according to our boat’s depth gauge). In the typically slow speed meandering that is part of snorkeling, Da Fin was fine. In free diving, Da Fin seemed particularly effective as it is light and easy to kick underwater.
DaFin promotes the ability of a lifeguard to run (sort of) in these fins. In theory, this might allow donning of the fin away from the surf and entering the surf with the fin already on. Whether this is practical or advisable I do not know, since I did not trial this feature. However, this is essentially impossible with larger fins, such as Duckfeet. In that case, the lifeguard returning from a rescue must generally walk backward out of the water while assisting a victim or victims. Due to the shorter length and lighter weight of Da Fin, it seems reasonable to assume that the lifeguard exiting the water could more easily do so walking forward than would be possible with other fins. Also, Da Fin has ridges on the bottom which appear to be aimed toward improving traction while “walking” in them.
In lifeguarding, you want your fins to float. This allows you to take them off and leave them in the water when assisting a victim in from a rescue. It also allows you to find them if the fall overboard or if one comes off. DaFin has positive buoyancy and in my tests in salt water, stayed on the surface.
I found DaFin to be superior in every way I could think of to Duckfeet. For lifeguards who will spend their working days with fins as an essential tool, these fins seem well worth the expense. With the USLA discount, this would be about $40 or so. They seem to be equally fast to that of the competition, while they are lighter, smaller, and much more comfortable. Since these fins appear to be designed, in part, for body-surfing, this seems like an added bonus. I can honestly say that regardless of the support of Da Fin for the USLA, I would expect most lifeguards to find these fins clearly preferable to any other fins I have used.