by Glenn Grant
This review compares the XS Scuba Turtle fin, SCUBAPRO Seawing Nova Gorilla fin, and the Hollis F1 “bat fin”. These fins are all solid-bladed paddles (as opposed to split fins), the kind often favored by drysuit and technical divers. All offer open heels with foot pockets large enough to accommodate drysuit boots.
As always, a diver’s choice of fins is as much about their own physiology, diving style and personal preferences as it is about the fin design. Speaking for myself, I have an average build and typically dive at a Zen-like pace, with slow, languid scissors kicks. But any fin I use also needs precise control for tight maneuvers, and enough stiffness so that I won’t overpower it when I suddenly find myself fighting a strong current. All of these fins meet these criteria.
The classic vented paddle fin, originally developed by Georges Beuchat and sold as Jetfins by SCUBAPRO have long been a mainstay for drysuit and tech divers. The XS Scuba Turtle fins was the brand we tested. The shortest fin in the group, Turtles have a simple vented blade design and a gaping maw of a foot pocket that can swallow the largest Rock Boots. Until recently, sizes were limited to 2XL and 3XL; now there is also an XL size that still maintains the same blade dimensions as the 3XL. Turtles are the most economical of the three fins reviewed here, and, like Henry Ford’s Model-T, they come in any color you want so long as it is black. The heel strap is adjustable and inexpensive, but can be difficult to handle while wearing thick gloves. I ended up attaching loops of knotted rope to each heel strap to give me something to blindly grab while taking them on or off. Spring straps are available at extra cost. Turtles do not come with drain holes in the foot pockets. I added several holes with a drill, although I still wonder why they didn’t come that way in the first place. I dove with Turtles for years, and for most dives they worked great. There were times, however, when I had trouble keeping up with my longer-finned buddy when he decided to pour on the gas. With Rock Boots that fit snugly in the 2XL foot pockets, the shorter blades made helicopter action and reverse finning easy, and fine position control was a breeze. But when I switched to a drysuit with smaller, integrated boots, suddenly my feet were swimming in the huge foot pockets and much of the fine control was lost – make sure your fins fit!
SCUBAPRO Seawing Nova Gorillas were next in line for testing. These win the award for ‘Most Space Age Design’, with an articulated blade attached to the foot pocket via two hinges. In fact these fins did win a 2011 reddot design award. Gorillas also only come in black and can be only differentiated from the black non-Gorilla Seawing Nova fins by the grey bungee pull. The adjustable bungee-style heel straps worked well, fit great, and had large rubber loops for grabbing with gloved hands. The blade stiffness made for precise turns and delicate position control, although I had to change my technique to compensate for the Gorillas’ longer length. Of the three fins tested for this article, these were the stiffest and snappiest: I could not come close to overpowering them. For my diving style the stiffness was actually more than I wanted, and after a short time I found myself alternating between scissors and frog kicks just to vary the muscle groups I was using and relieve fatigue. If you’re powering a heavy rig into a current, Gorillas may be your fin of choice. If you like the design but want something more forgiving, try the recreational SCUBAPRO Seawing Nova fins, which are similar but not quite as stiff. I didn’t comparison test the Novas this time around but think they’d probably be a better match for my less-intensive style of diving.
Hollis F1 “bat” fins are available in basic black, or black with bright yellow tips. The different colored end doesn’t seem to affect the stiffness of the fin, it’s all the same rubber material. The F1s are approximately the same length as the Gorillas but not as stiff. When finning with the same type of kick, the F1s felt as though the propulsion was similar to the Gorillas and greater than the Turtles — but with a smoother action than either of the previous fins. F1s come equipped with an adjustable metal spring strap, including a large rubber loop (similar to the Gorillas) for easy handling. The foot pockets of the extra-large F1s were a good fit with my size 11 integrated drysuit boots. The softer finning action and glove-like fit made casual finning almost effortless. Precise control and pivot turns were a snap, but again I had to change my usual technique to compensate for the different stiffness and length of the fins, especially when going in reverse.
All three of these fins are durable and suitable for both technical or recreational use. I recommend giving them a try before buying. The Turtles are an economical, all-around fin that will accommodate a monster foot size. The Gorillas are definitely tailored for powering heavy, high-drag rigs through rough conditions. For my diving style, I preferred the F1s: these struck a balance between stiffness, power, and maneuverability that I liked.
When reviewing fins we like to give them a “leg rating.” This is an assessment of how your legs feel while finning. The rating range is 1-10; with a 1 being as if it felt like you were not wearing fins and 10 being that you “feel the burn” on every kick. I give the Turtles a 7, the F1 Bat fins an 8 and Gorillas a 10. The SCUBAPRO Seawing Novas which I did not test are rated a 5-6 by other ScubaGadget Labs testers.
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