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Miscellaneous > Monofin Swimming

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message 1: by Ryan (new)

Ryan (mksheppard) | 39 comments AKA "The closest you can get to being a mermaid/man without radical surgery or recombinant DNA alteration."

Monofins were invented around 1972 by an Ukrainian swim club, and they continue to be largely custom-made to order from that region; but lately FINIS has been producing several different versions on a commercial scale as a "swimming aid" to help improve your dolphin kick.

They are really, really hard to find -- when I was down in Florida to see the last Shuttle go up, I checked out all the scuba shops in Melbourne, but none of them had a monofin.

I ended up searching the internet and found an internet/physical store near me at BWI airport in Maryland that carried them.

Why didn't I just order them from Amazon.com?

One of the big problems with FINIS' current lineup is that most of them come in small shoe sizes; making it important that you be able to physically check out the fin in the store to see if you can wear them with a sock on (to simulate the fin bootie you need to wear to prevent blisters).

(I'm a largeish man's size 12, bordering on 13; with a fairly wide foot.)

Thankfully, I was able to just barely fit into the FINIS Rapid Monofin (Link) that they'd shipped down from their New Jersey store; and I went out to my local public swimming pool to try it out.

Total cost to me:
$85~ for the fin

$16~ for a pair of XL neoprene fin booties to prevent blistering and chafing of my feet. You WILL need these from what I've read online.

$37 for a pair of Aqua Seal XP clear goggles -- which is in between a full size scuba/snorkeling mask and cheap speedo swim goggles; you WILL need some sort of underwater vision solution; it makes monofin swimming much easier.

Because the lens of the Seal XP are curved; there's some distortion of your vision, but it all balances out.

All in all, about $140~; though I could have saved money by getting my swim goggles online; instead of getting them at Sports Authority.

In any case, the cost wasn't that bad; compared to the typical cost for sports equipment -- a tent for camping can set you back about $80, then there's the extras like a propane grill or lantern if you want to do more than sleep on the hard ground and eat granola.

Here are my impressions based on 9.5 hours of playing around with the monofin:

This is a big fin. At it's widest, it's 21"; and from fintip to heel, it's about 22". If you're six foot like I am, you'll feel sort of constrained in waters five feet or less with the fin on.

Putting the fin on at the beginning of each session should be done on land; since it's a lot different than a pair of swim flippers; and the foot holders are kind of smallish for someone with such big feet as me.

For my first test, I tried it out in shallow waters (5~ ft) for safety reasons. This didn't go very well, due to my inexperience.

I'm what you would call a 'basic swimmer'. My swim classes 20+ years ago were for basic swimming; and I never joined a swim team or anything in my youth. All my swimming experience essentially was underwater free-diving with the breast-stroke/frog-kick until now; no real muscle memory of a dolphin kick; and I was never really all that co-ordinated.

I was pretty much completely helpless in the water in my first attempt at using the monofin; and I had the horrible feeling that maybe I had wasted my money as I removed the fin via the quick-detach straps.

Fortunately, I thought things through and put the fin back on and got into the diving side of the pool (10-15+ ft deep) and basically clung to the side of the pool and just kept treading water until I got used to the fin.

Then I ventured out and tried treading water away from the side, before moving on to more advanced techniques. If you're inexperienced like me, you may find it easier to try and swim backwards, as a partial dolphin kick is easier that way.

It's actually cool doing that since as you go backwards, you raise a wake and you feel like one of those dolphins in a show swimming backwards as you chatter excitedly.

Eventually, I got confident and experienced enough to swim and freedive with it as I built up my muscle memory in regards to a dolphin kick.

Some more notes:

You don't need to do a full dolphin kick to sort of cruise underwater with it -- the fin is powerful enough that a more relaxed half-kick on a long beat interval works pretty well for long distance underwater swimming -- I've gone about 60~ ft underwater on a single breath; and I'm not exactly in the best of shape (yet).

It really opens up the bottom of the pool to you. Before, I had to fight to swim down to the bottom of the diving section of the pool -- now I can swim down 15~ feet easily.

After a two hour session in the pool mostly swimming and treading water with the monofin; when I got out of the pool at closing time, I could actually *feel* the weight of gravity reasserting itself.

I timed myself with and without the monofin in a 25-meter wide pool and got the following results:

Without: 24.6 seconds = 1.01 m/sec or 1.96 knots
With: 17.36 seconds = 1.44 m/sec or 2.79 knots

Granted; with a bit more conditioning, and better swim clothing I could easily better my time; as my trunks kept wanting to come off with each dolphin kick -- now I know why competition swimmers wear lycra trunks or briefs!

Merfolk related insights from using the monofin follow:

They'd lose forward vision in relation to their swimming speed -- if you're swimming full speed horizontally with a dolphin kick for minimum drag; your vision would be mostly pointed down. Even if you tilted your head up to get a sort of forward view, it would still be limited and you wouldn't be able to hold it for an extended period of time due to neck muscle strain.

Granted, actual merfolk would likely be more flexible than I am; but it's still a limitation inherent in the human head and upper form, which is optimized for walking upright.

In shallow waters (5 ft or less), you'd be forced to use shallower tail thrusts, either to avoid hitting the sea floor, which may have rocks which could cut your tailfin -- or having your tailfin breach the surface, which results in a loss of water thrust and your tailfin acting as a marker for your location to anyone on the surface.

Crudely, it appears that merfolk would stick to deeper waters (30+ feet deep), and would only go into shallow areas that they know *very* well; e.g. they know where the hazards are and when to turn left or right; similar to how Sean Connery's character in the "Hunt for Red October" was able to guide his submarine through underwater canyons via a stopwatch and a map -- swim forty beats, then roll left as there's a huge rock just ahead of you, etc.

Regarding transformation, I cannot emphasize how much someone who just got a tail would be thrashing around for the first dozen or so minutes, based on my initial experience and on watching a kid I let play with my monofin try to swim around in it.

What's surprising is how *fast* someone can adapt to dolphin-kicking/monofinning.

I was somewhat comfortable with the monofin after just two hours of playing with it, and my proficiency only increased from there. Right now, I can just show up at the pool, strap it on, and jump in -- it's like learning how to ride a bicycle.

Uh, that's as much as I can think of right now. Do you all have any questions you'd like to ask?

message 2: by Randi, Movies, Music, Merpeople (new)

Randi (The Artist Formerly known as Guitar Chick) (guitarchick) | 1021 comments Mod
I think there was a little girl's monofin shaped like a pink mermaid tail fin at Target last year, but again, big feet don't bode well for that type thing.

If you figure out anything else that would affect merpeople and such I'd love to know for my writing, so at least I can take into account or maybe even fix it with some good ole literary magic.

And space shuttle launches are so cool.I went to one a few years ago. I also got to see the last one roll out onto the pad because my dad works for NASA and stuff. It's a really cool experiance.

message 3: by Ryan (new)

Ryan (mksheppard) | 39 comments Um, the only thing I can think of right now at this moment is that merfolk clothing would be significantly different from land clothing.

Kilts or other clothing wrapped around the lower part of the tail or on the hips would only be for formal settings, since the hip motions of a dolphin kick over and over would cause any but the most skintight clothing to come off and slide down the tail or unwrap.

Dresses would form I think the majority of mer-clothing; with appropriate styles for each sex; ranging from dresses which are somewhat equivalent to really long tee shirts for 'utilities' to really skimpy strapless dresses that emphasize the fact that the wearer does not swim heavily.

Sorry if this is kind of obvious, but it's the best I can think of right now.

message 4: by oliviasbooks (new)

oliviasbooks | 261 comments Wow, Ryan. Thanks for sharing. That's all I can say.

message 5: by Ryan (last edited Nov 07, 2011 07:01PM) (new)

Ryan (mksheppard) | 39 comments This is really not related to monofin swimming in any way at all, but you should keep it in mind when creating merfolk culture/worlds; to avoid creating parallel worlds that are exactly like the surface world:

Water is the closest thing we have to a universal solvent, particularly salt-water and the beasties that live in it.

There should be an air of impermanence about things in the merworld compared to the landworld. A dress that could last a hundred years in a dry moth-free closet rots to pieces after just a month underwater, or less.

Perhaps Very Important Items [tm], like the ceremonial scepter that is used to crown a new leader are placed in dry caves accessible only via underwater tunnels, or are deliberately buried to preserve them.

(If you bury something, you cut off fresh oxygen in the water, significantly reducing the amount of bacteria and other things which munch on items -- it's how a lot of old wooden wrecks survive, or rare items like the H.L. Hunley -- after she sank, something broke a window open, allowing sand/silt to fill up the submarine and preserve the bodies of the crew inside and other items like the wooden benches they sat on.)

EDIT: Oh yes, and please remember the resistance of water is many times that of air. So no having your characters fighting underwater with axes -- the swings would be so slow you could easily dodge them.

(yes, I have read this in Atlantean waterbreather novels that at first glance to me looked possibly like mermaid fiction -- Seaborne by Katherine Irons is a good example of this, and where the 'axe-swing underwater' trope came from)

message 6: by Ryan (new)

Ryan (mksheppard) | 39 comments I recently finished In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield, and some scenes in it jogged my memory in relation to my monofin swimming experience.

One of the scenes was a character commenting internally how above the water, you could see far; but beneath the water; things faded to a curtain of haze after a short distance.

I monofinned in both indoor and outdoor pools; and there was a significant difference between the water clarity in the two. Outdoors, the water was kind of fuzzy and faded off into a haze; but indoors, the water was crystal clear; and you could see off into the distance across the pool.

I've never scuba dived, so I can't tell you about the quality of actual seawater, but a good research project for your stories might be to connect up with a scuba diving forum to find out what the water quality is like in the regions you set your stories.

In any case, it does look like hearing would be a bit higher on the scale of "wants" for finfolk, since you could hear things further than you could see them (this is also alluded to in Whitfield's novel) which makes for some interesting hyjinks out of the water from above-normal hearing.

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