Inventors Giovanni Alfonso Borelli and Leonado DaVinci first came up with the concept of the fin way back in 1717.
But the earliest design is credited to a boy aged 11 years who went on to invent electricity – Benjamin Franklin. His first design was with oval paddles that were made of wood. Because of his achievement, Franklin was included into the International Swimming Hall of Fame almost 250 years later.
The Early 1900s
The next major milestone was in 1914 when Louis Marie de Corlieu, a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy, introduced a prototype, which is close to the modern-day design to naval officers from France. Louis went full time into developing the fin after his retirement 10 years later, and eventually he applied for patent in April 1933. Mass productions started only in 1939.
In the meantime, American Owen Churchill was also working on fin designs, inspired by Tahitian natives. Young Tahitians would attach metal straps to weaved mats, dip them in tar, cool and harden them, and place them on their feet before going to the water. Churchill created his design from vulcanized rubber. The cured rubber made them less sticky and harder than natural rubber. The rubber was more durable too.
His design was patented in 1940. However, Churchill could sell only 1000 pairs as snorkeling wasn’t that popular back then.
Cressi-Sub, a manufacturer from Italy together with inventor Luigi Ferraro came up with what was the first full foot design in 1948. Made with one-piece molded rubber, you could wear it like a shoe. Cressi-Sub is making snorkeling gear to this day.
The strap style emerged only after the appearance of the full foot design. There were more snorkeling gear makers who started researching to improve propulsion. The rigid non-flexible blades were heavier, and you had to put in a lot of energy, which caused foot muscle and ankle stress. Flexible blades started to arrive in early 1980s. Manufacturers also began to release lighter weight plastics. Other adaptations started to emerge as well. Side rails and vents were added.
Dive and snorkel fins saw another innovation in the early 1990s with new blade designs. Till now, the blades had one-piece designs, working much like paddles. Nature’s Wing came up with split blades, where you had to put in a lot less effort in your kicks, and that too without losing propulsion. The buckle system and strap also changed for the better.