Posted by divebumNsandyeggo
Shortly after I completed my Dive Master Certification, a friend sent me a video of a diver doing helicopter kicks. In the video the diver was rotating slowly without changing depth. I was fascinated by the video, and it led me to researching other types of fin kicks, how to do them properly, what they’re for and when to use them. Since then I’ve practiced most of them to the point that I will use a variety of them on any given dive, and I thought you all might be interested in what I learned along the way.
There are only two kicks I use all the time – a flutter kick, and a frog or sculling kick. Within the sculling kick style, there are several variations of it that I use on a regular basis. The flutter kick is the kick style that divers are taught during their Open Water Course.
It’s performed by alternating moving your legs up and down, much like you do when you’re swimming freestyle or using the crawl swim stroke. Of course in diving, we’re not swimming with our hands, so start with the freestyle or crawl stroke, remove the arm and hand action, and you’re doing the flutter kick.
Most Open Water instructors teach their students to flutter kick using the entire leg in the kick, to kick from their hips with knees slightly bent and toes (fin tips) pointed in the direction opposite the direction of travel. That method provides power, but it can also leaves a clouded trail of silt behind you. For the most efficient flutter kick, try using less flex in your knees and more flex in your hips and ankles. Another variant on the flutter kick that you can use is to keep your knees bent slightly upward, which will help direct water movement back behind you instead of downward, and you’ll stir up less debris behind you.
The flutter kick is most useful when a constant stroke with power is needed. I use the flutter kick mostly in the pool when teaching Open Water students. About the only times I use the flutter kick in my own diving is if I find myself in a current, if I’m using a kick cycle count to measure distance between two points, or if I need to close distance quickly to assist another diver.
The frog or sculling kick is essentially the kick you’re doing when you do the breast stroke and take the arm action out of the stroke. In scuba diving it’s basically a kick and glide stroke. The consensus among divers is that it’s the most efficient stroke for diving, and although I’ve never seen any scientific studies on it, my own experience is that it leads to the best air consumption for a diver.
I personally use the sculling or frog kick the vast majority of the time when I’m diving, and I introduce divers to the sculling kick in the latter stages of most of my Open Water classes. If I’m doing an Advanced Open Water Class, I invariably integrate the use of the different kick styles into the class. One definite advantage to using the sculling kick is that it doesn’t stir up silt like the flutter kick does, so if you’re doing cave or wreck diving it becomes the only kick to use. Where you’ve got increased drag moving through the water, such as when you’re diving in a dry suit, it is also the best kick to use. When I’m diving dry I’ll shorten the sculling kicks up a bit and bend my knees more. The reasons I do this are that the material in my dry suit doesn’t flex as easily as my wetsuits do, and having my fins up a bit more helps with my buoyancy control and keeps me trimmed properly in the water.
A variation on the sculling kick is known as a helicopter turn. A helicopter turn is also useful for rotating your body without a lot of forward movement, and it avoids kicking up silt. I use this one often when I’m teaching or watch a large group of divers. In doing the helicopter turns you basically do a frog or sculling kick, and turn one of your fins (the one on the side in the direction you want to rotate) so that you’re grabbing a bit more water than with the other fin. Ideally, you shouldn’t be changing depth at all when you’re performing helicopter turns.
Another kick that I use on a regular basis is the reverse frog kick. The reverse frog kick is basically the same kick but done backwards. The reverse frog kick is somewhat difficult to learn, but I use it mainly where I want to stop my forward momentum, or when I’m shooting underwater photos. In that case I’m often trying to back up a bit to get a better angle or frame for my picture. The frog kick also allows me to arrest my forward momentum and move backwards a bit without having to push off coral or other sensitive marine life. Another method that I use to back up frequently is kind of an underwater moon walk, which involves sticking my fin straight back (without catching any water), then turning my ankle downward and pulling back towards my upper body. By doing this alternately you can move backward 8 – 12 inches with each kick if you’re doing it properly. With either method of reverse kicking, they take a bit of practice to do properly, but the end of a dive when you’re doing your safety stop gives you a great opportunity to practice some of these skills while being a safer diver.
Then there is what is commonly referred to as a dolphin kick, and while not particularly useful in diving I often do it toward the end of a dive when I’m diving recreationally and want to flex out my hips a bit. I don’t know that it has much practical use in diving as it won’t move you forward that much, but it’s different and it can be a nice change of pace if you’re in really calm waters.
Regardless of the style of kick you use in diving, one of the most important things to be mindful of is that if you over-kick, you’re going to lose efficiency and you’re going to blow through your air more quickly. A related concept is that of slip stream. As you move through the water, the fluid parts and flows past you, creating an area of turbulence or disturbed water, which in turn increases drag on the balance of your body as you move forward. Maintaining good trim and keeping your fin kicks within this slip stream increases the effectiveness of your kicks. In all cases, as in diving in general, you want to maintain a horizontal plane as you move through the water, which offers less resistance to forward movement and gives you better energy conservation and air consumption. In general, think in terms of smaller kicks, flexibility in your ankles, and less flex in your knees.
Regardless of what kick styles you choose to employ, please remember to be a good, responsible dive buddy, and consider that your air reserve is not yours alone – a portion of that air reserve is also your dive buddy’s life support system.
Marcus GeePADI MSDT #235938