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Monofin history

DRW

Vintage snorkeller
Jan 5, 2007
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Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
I thought I'd start a new thread to share the findings of some recent research I conducted into the history of the monofin. The investigation was prompted by the dearth of online information I discovered about the origins of the device other than terse references to certain Soviet athletes beating bi-fin competitors in finswimming races around 1973. This poverty of coverage convinced me that there must be much more to the history of the monofin than the sudden entry of a monofin-shod individual or team at a finswimming competition in the early 1970s.

The first thing I did was to try and identify what might have been the world's first monofin-like device. I resisted the temptation either to trace the monofin back to some fantasy drawing by the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, or to speculate about which sea creature's tail fin might have the closest resemblance to a monofin, or to attribute its inspiration to Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid.

A lot of intensive searching and a dollop of good fortune yielded results. A potential candidate for the "world's first monofin" was found in the shape of a German museum exhibit created in 1949:
53913

53914

53915


These images can be found on page 60 of a 2015 issue of the online German diving history journal Tauchhistorie at http://www.tauchhistorie.eu/th-pdf/tauchhistorie-03-2015.pdf. The pictures appear in an article by Kurt Schaefer entitled "Meine Geschichte - Kurt Schaefer" (My story: Kurt Schaefer). If you can't read German, you can still find out plenty about him at http://www.isdhf.com/eventsoffers/scubadivinghalloffame/bios/kurt_schaefer.aspx, including his association with Hans Hass and his contribution to the development of underwater photography.

The "Meine Geschichte" article is essential, however, to an understanding of Schaefer's role in the origins of the monofin. Kurt Schaefer fastened together a pair of homemade swimming fins with straps and cords to create what is probably the world’s first monofin. The finished result appears in the third image. The second image shows the piece of material used to join the separate fins together with cords and straps. In the first image, the fins are entirely separate and usable as bi-fins, although they can still be loosely aligned when worn to perform a butterfly stroke.

Schaefer's late-1940s monofin is on display in the Aquazoo-Löbbecke Museum in the German city of Düsseldorf. In my next posting, I'll tell you all about a later event in the early timeline of the monofin. Our focus will shift to a certain German patent filed and granted in the mid- to late-1950s. Stay tuned!
 
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DRW

DRW

Vintage snorkeller
Jan 5, 2007
210
83
118
Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
Time for the second instalment. A while ago, I chanced upon a history of swim fins from Tomsk State University at http://www.skate.tsu.ru/content/sport/istoriya-lastov. The Russian text translates roughly as follows:

A history of fins
1933. Frenchman Louis de Corlieu invents the first fins for the military purpose of mobility in water. (Pat. 658872, 1933).
Early 1950s. — Mass production of rubber swimming fins begins in many countries (Italy, France, USA etc.).
1955. Ristau + Bergann (Federal Republic of Germany) patent a rubber monofin with the blade at a 20-30 degree angle to the foot pockets. (Pat.1085798, 1955)
Late 1950s. — Various underwater sports emerge, but increasing movement in the water remains a problem.
1961-62. — Bi-fin blade area increases (Release of “Gigante” rubber fins in Italy and “Sadala Gigant” in Bulgaria). These fins result in greater swimming speed, but their weight increases greatly too.
1968. V.Zagozin, B.Salmin, B.Samohin (USSR) optimise the ratio: fin weight - blade area - elastic properties of the blade, reinforcing the bi-fin blade with a profiled fork made from bronze, then from titanium alloys. (AS 272 114 1968, USSR).
1968-69. V. Zhdanov, V. Titov, A. Shumkov (SKAT club, USSR) reduce the weight of the bi-fins, improve the elastic properties of the blade, using fibreglass to manufacture a fibre reinforced shaped fork blade or fabricating the entire blade from profiled glass fibre reinforced plastic. (Application 1488511, 1971, USSR).
1969-70. B .Porotov (USSR) designs a high-speed monofin whose blade of which is made of rubber reinforced with metal, and then makes an entire blade from profiled fibreglass reinforced plastic.
1980-1990s. – Commercial production of monofins with fibreglass blades begins in USSR, Italy, China, Japan, etc.
1990-92. V. Zhdanov, V. Titov, A. Shumkov (SKAT, USSR) design and manufacture a "Wing" monofin whose fibreglass blade has a symmetrical thickening made of elastic material, which is a hydrodynamic biconvex wing. (AS 1771776, 1992, USSR).
1999-2000. E. Andronov (SKAT club coach, Russia) designs and manufactures a monofin, which has an improved streamlined shape, whose blade and foot pockets are at an angle of 10-20 degrees to each other, and whose foot pocket has improved properties.

The third entry on the above timeline caught my attention and I decided to investigate further. My research led me to German patent 1085798 for "Gleichzeitig von beiden Füßen eines Schwimmenden zu betätigender Schwimmhilfskörper" (roughly: swimmer's aid activated by both feet at once) filed on 19 September 1955 and published on 12 January 1961. The document can be viewed at https://register.dpma.de/DPMAregister/pat/PatSchrifteneinsicht?docId=DE1085798B. The inventors were Kurt Ristau and Hans Joachim Bergann, who founded the underwater diving equipment manufacturing company Barakuda in the early 1950s in the German city of Hamburg after serving as combat swimmers during World War II. Here is Figure 1 showing an object fitted to the swimmer's feet and closely resembling a modern monofin:
53948

Remember this image first appeared in print in early 1961, a dozen years before that anonymous Soviet club is supposed to have beaten off all comers in a finswimming competition. Ristau and Bergann's patent remains little known because their design never reached the production stage. At least it was acknowledged by one Russian fin historian at Tomsk State University.

Third instalment to follow, probably next week, and focusing on a 1962-1965 American patent for a device enabling a pair of bi-fins to be coupled together to reduce fatigue and cramping during prolonged swimming.
 
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DRW

DRW

Vintage snorkeller
Jan 5, 2007
210
83
118
Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
Now for Instalment Three in this potted early history of the monofin. My focus today is on patent US3165764 entitled "DETACHABLE COUPLING FOR SWIMMING FIN". Here is the first page of the patent drawings to illustrate the basic concept:

An Annotated Bibliography on Diving and Submarine Medicine by Charles Wesley Shilling and Margaret F. Werts summarised James S. Christiansen's contribution thus: "This invention consists of apparatus by which swimming fins may be coupled together. A diver's legs may become cramped or tored after prolonged use of fins; the coupling together of the fins would cause him to use different muscles, thus relieving his fatigue. The coupling device may be coupled and uncoupled by special foot movements, leaving the diver's arms free to carry or operate equipment."

Like Ristau and Bergann's German patent, Christiansen's American patent never entered the production stage. Interesting, though, that the aim underlying the coupling together of two separate fins was to reduce fatigue, i.e. to maximise endurance and not acceleration.

Next time we'll take a look at a monofin design created by one Franco Pavone towards the end of the 1960s.
 
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DRW

DRW

Vintage snorkeller
Jan 5, 2007
210
83
118
Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
Thanks to Ol Dirty Diver and to Zazuge for the likes and more particularly to Kurt's message suggesting that I am not alone on this forum in believing that just because something's new doesn't mean it's always better. I see that I stopped posting on this thread in May, not because I had run out of things to say, but because there was then no feedback and I realised I was the only contributor to my own thread. Thank you for rectifying that and leaving such positive feedback about my investigations.

To show my appreciation, here's a further episode in the monofin saga. In 1969, Franco Pavone (left below) constructed what was claimed to be the first attempt at creating the world's first monofin (right below):


The image on the left is from an article about Francesco "Franco" Pavone in the online Italian-language Apnea Magazine at https://www.apneamagazine.com/franco-pavone-il-gamma-1378. The caption "FRANCESCO PAVONE. Nasce a Massafra (TA) nel 1920. Durante il periodo bellico fa parte, inieme a Luigi Ferraro, del corpo scelto "Decima Mas". Nel 1955 fonda la SUB Bologna, prima società in Italia di Nuoto Pinnato. Grazie a Pavone nascono i primi corsi di subacqua in Emilia Romagna. Nel 1959 organizza la prima manifestazione di nuoto pinnato in piscina. Nel 1968 inventa la "monopinna". Muore a Bologna nel 2000." translates roughly as follows: "FRANCESCO PAVONE. He was born in Massafra (TA) in 1920. During the war he served together with Luigi Ferraro as a "Decima Mas" (combat swimmer). In 1955 he founded SUB Bologna, the first finswimming association in Italy. Thanks to Pavone, the first diving courses began in Emilia Romagna. In 1959 he organized the first finswimming event in the pool. In 1968 he invented the "monofin". He died in Bologna in 2000.

The image on the right is from the "Monopinna" (Monofin) article in the Italian version of Wikipedia at https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monopinna. The caption "'matrimoniale' 1969 è il primo tentativo di monopinna nel mondo. Realizzata da FRANCO PAVONE." can be roughly rendered as "'matrimonial' 1969 is the world's first attempt at a monofin. Made by FRANCO PAVONE."

What must be clear by now is that pre-1970 Austrian, German and American contributors to the development of the monofin had little or no awareness of one another's existence. This should come as no surprise because inventions often emerge from groups of people either collaborating in teams, or competing as rivals, or working concurrently with, but unaware of, others pursuing the same goals.

My next port of call will be Boris Porotov, who also contributed to monofin development in 1969 in the then Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic.
 
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Ol Dirty Diver

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@DRW Thank you for your further contribution.

Not sure how long you've perused DB forum (I've mostly been absent for last several years), but wanted to make sure you took notice of these notable developments in alternative monofin design (or at least self-propulsion devices that are not bi-fins). An older one called the Aqueon (https://forums.deeperblue.com/threads/flying-underwater-a-blast-from-the-past.72588/), and the modern DOL-Fin by my colleague @REVAN (https://forums.deeperblue.com/threads/extreme-dolfinism-g2.100667/). The Lunocet was also innovative (https://forums.deeperblue.com/threads/lunocet-photos-from-dema.80650/), but the inventor's business practices were so steeped in criticism on here that few will say anything positive about it.

I still have the Lunocet and DOL-Fin, and didn't find that I performed better with either than conventional hyperfin. But now that I'm modifying my technique so much I should probably return to trying those foil-based designs with my new technique!
 
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cdavis

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Jan 21, 2003
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I thought I had posted something earlier, but must have messed it up, sorry Here is the gist:

VERY interesting stuff. I appreciate the work( it was a lot of it). Please keep it up.

Connor
 
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DRW

DRW

Vintage snorkeller
Jan 5, 2007
210
83
118
Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
@DRW Thank you for your further contribution. Not sure how long you've perused DB forum (I've mostly been absent for last several years), but wanted to make sure you took notice of these notable developments in alternative monofin design (or at least self-propulsion devices that are not bi-fins). An older one called the Aqueon (https://forums.deeperblue.com/threads/flying-underwater-a-blast-from-the-past.72588/), and the modern DOL-Fin by my colleague @REVAN (https://forums.deeperblue.com/threads/extreme-dolfinism-g2.100667/). The Lunocet was also innovative (https://forums.deeperblue.com/threads/lunocet-photos-from-dema.80650/), but the inventor's business practices were so steeped in criticism on here that few will say anything positive about it. I still have the Lunocet and DOL-Fin, and didn't find that I performed better with either than conventional hyperfin. But now that I'm modifying my technique so much I should probably return to trying those foil-based designs with my new technique!
Thank you both for the positive feedback, Connor and Kurt. I'm grateful too, Kurt, for the information about the Aqueon, Lunocet and DOL-Fin. Truth to tell, I'm old enough to have been around when the following Aqueon-related ads first appeared in Triton, the journal of the British Sub Aqua Club. The dates may help in determining the chronology of the device.

1. February 1967 issue: The device is called an "Aqua-naut" at this stage. It is distributed within the UK by Unitex Ltd of Knaresborough in Yorkshire. It is available in three different models: Sea Raider, Commando and Sea Sprite.


2. August 1968 issue: Unitex announces a change of name to "Aqueon". Interesting from a cultural perspective that the accompanying image now pitches the device at women as well as men and portrays its use in swimming and breathhold diving.


Here is an American leaflet about the device:


My first impressions when I read the ads in the late 1960s were that the Aqueon was more of a device to be "ridden", like a bicycle, while fins were devices to be "worn". Meanwhile, back in the USSR, late-sixties Soviet diving manuals contained similar imagery of period underwater "vehicles", e.g.
54405
 
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cdavis

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Jan 21, 2003
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History can repeat itself!

I just saw a kiddie monofin at the pool that was composed of two bifins that slid together down a grove so that the swimmer could make it into bifins or a mono as he/she was going along. A lot like the "detachable coupling for swim fins" but easier to use.
 
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DRW

DRW

Vintage snorkeller
Jan 5, 2007
210
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118
Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
An update on what may well be the world's first monofin (unless you know different) invented by underwater photography pioneer Kurt Schaefer, who is the subject of the original post of this thread. I have just chanced upon an article in the Historical Diving Society of Italy periodical HDS Notizie N. 64 - Marzo 2018 - pages 9-20. Written by Rossella Paternò, it is available online at Kurt Schaefer, un grande pioniere della fotografia subacquea. Here are a couple of new illustrations with their captions:
hds_64_marzo_2018_16b.png

The Italian roughly translates as "1950 - the middle section is used to transform a pair of ordinary fins into a monofin." This prototype is almost 70 years old - two decades before previous estimates of a date of origin around 1970.
hds_64_marzo_2018_16a.png

Italian: La ragazza ritratta è Edith Schaefer, sorella di Kurt, che indossa il monopinna e impugna la custodia della Kodak Retina. Edith era l’unica assistente di cui Schaefer si fidasse al cento per cento e l’accompagnò in molte delle sue avventure in giro per l'Adriatico.
English: The girl portrayed is Edith Schaefer, Kurt's sister, who is wearing the monofin and holding the Kodak Retina case. Edith was the only assistant Schaefer trusted 100% and she accompanied him on many of his adventures around the Adriatic.
 
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DRW

DRW

Vintage snorkeller
Jan 5, 2007
210
83
118
Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
Thank you, psl020. I'm glad the evidence you found online support my own findings. EarIier in this thread, I promised a posting on the contribution of Boris Porotov to monofin development, so I'll report here what I know. My source is an article by S. Prapor in Volume 60 (1980) of the Soviet diving magazine Спортсмен-подводник, entitled " Из истории ластов" (From the history of fins). If you are interested and can read Russian, see the article for yourself on pages 10-13 of the issue at http://www.scubadiving.ru/biblioteka/Knigi/sportsmen_podvodnik_060.pdf. My own knowledge of the language is based on what I learned during a year-long evening class in the mid-1960s and on what I have gleaned later through self-study.

In 1962, according to Prapor, "the underwater sports instructor engineer V. A. Suetin made the first monofin in the country, which began at the swimmer's waist and ended with tightly paired fins. The monofin was intended for use in shooting an amateur underwater film, A Girl and the Sea, which was later screened. It shows how someone in a monofin can move freely and quickly underwater, using a dolphin kick." Personally, I think this device sounds more like a Soviet version of the Aqueon discussed earlier in this thread, namely something to be ridden rather than worn. Prapor continues: "In 1968, Boris Porotov, the coach of Nadezhda Turukalo, the future World, Europe and USSR champion and record holder, made a high-speed monofin from rubber. A fork made of titanium alloy served as a rigid frame. However, the fin did not work. A mistake was made - the tip of the fin was too thick. At the same time, a Leningrad trainer, E.N. Rekson, connected two full-foot fins together, but left their blades unglued together. His pupil O. Tikhonenko performed with this novelty in the winter of 1968 in Moscow. This was the first test of the future sports monofin in serious competitions. Filming Tikhonenko swimming under water, Boris Porotov noted that this was not a good solution to finning, but he also realised his mistake and thinned down the fin tip. In the spring of 1969, in a new modernized monofin, Nadezhda Turukalo began a victory march. First, the result of 10.6 seconds at a distance of 50 meters of diving and the title of champion of Kazakhstan. Then the result of 10.4 seconds at the same distance in the USSR Championship and the title of champion of the USSR. Boris Porotov now began to believe that the monofin reigned supreme, but on the second day of the championship he did not think of putting his pupil in the monofin for the 100-metre underwater swim. But ... the separate fins had been forgotten in the hotel, and Nadezhda started with the monofin. The result of the swim was sensational. The athlete improved by 2.6 s V. Kuznetsova’s seemingly unbreakable record."

So much for the Soviet contribution to early monofin development. I'll take a look at the contribution of the Spanish diving equipment company Nemrod to monofin design in a future posting. Hope this has been of some interest.
 
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