Review | Atomic Aquatics X1 Bladefin
Like many dive professionals, I've worn a lot of fins but – like many divers – I've tended to stick with a model and brand that I like when it comes to long-term everyday use.
In the early days, I owned a set of Mares Avanti Quattros, a popular entry-level model with almost universal usability. That changed when I was introduced to the Mares Volo Power because the lighter underwater weight and the ease of movement made a huge difference to me. Back in my younger and more sporting days, a couple of nasty football-related injuries to the Achilles tendon and hamstring of my right leg make finning at certain times a little uncomfortable. It's nothing I can't work around, but when I was diving three times a day, every day, those little niggles became more pronounced. Swapping back to stiffer fins from time-to-time was sometimes unpleasant, and part of the reason I don't like wearing heavy jetfins.
I'd been sent a set of the Atomic Aquatics X1 Bladefin for review and as it is marketed as 'firmer and shorter', with a 'solid internal frame', for 'general purpose, tech diving and extreme applications,' I did have a long debate with myself about whether or not to take my beloved, super-floppy Volos with me to Indonesia as a backup, just in case, but it turned out that I needn't have worried.
From dive number one, I really liked the X1s. They are – naturally – much, much stiffer than I am used to (almost everything is), but whatever hydrodynamic shenanigans have gone into their design did not make me feel as if I was riding uphill on a bicycle in a high gear. I found them light, easy to use and – when needed – very powerful.
Like many recreational divers who have been underwater more than once or twice, I don't maintain a consistent kicking style. I frog-kick for general-purpose propulsion and flutter when I'm heading into a current or need to get somewhere at speed, but otherwise, I generally default to what I call 'the lazy dive guide kick', which is sort of like a scissor kick, but without any particular geometry involved. My fins go where I need them to go at any given time.
Frog-kicking was easy. The vertical stabilisers (strakes) along the edge of the blade's tip prevented any of the turnover that I sometimes get from my regular fins, especially moving at an angle against the direction of the current. My 'lazy dive guide' kick was definitely more precise. I did have to fight a bit of current here and there and the X1 certainly excels at that. It took me a while to re-adjust to flutter-kicking with a stiff fin, but it was not as hard on my ankle as other models, probably due to the shorter blade of the X1. The rigidity of the fin means the downstroke does take a bit of effort, less on the upstroke, but with all the work coming from the hips and thighs I did find that I could power through the water with ease and without niggles.
I enjoy the three-dimensional freedom and agility of scuba diving. I like to do silly things like barrel roll, stand on my head or hover upside down and spin around like I'm breakdancing. Daft as that sounds, such activitites do require a fair amount of control and – since the X1 is marketed as 'highly manoeuvrable' – I had to give them a go. For scientific purposes, you understand. My conclusion from these experiments is that divers who require fine control in smaller spaces (and underwater breakdancers) will like the X1 Bladefin.
Back-finning in the X1s was super-easy. Granted, against my regular fins that is not much of a comparison – it is, after all, a bit like saying my cheese is tastier than your chalk – but I had no issues with control, and the short, stiff, blade definitely helps. It wasn't quite as easy wearing four tanks. My experience here is limited to a technical 'try-dive' and during the pool orientation wearing only a twinset, a quick test of the back-fin was fine, but with the addition of two stage tanks in open water, it wasn't.
In all other regards, I had no issue with control in that setup. The fins were just as manoeuvrable, and the requisite frog-kick just as easy, as they were with a single tank. My experience hardly constitutes a comprehensive test, but I'm also not a novice diver. Most techies I know opt for heavier, rubber, fins but those who are leaning towards the X1, and have more multi-tank technical experience than I do, may want to try before they buy.
The foot-pockets of the X1 Bladefin are voluminous enough that they will accommodate even the thickest of boots. I am a UK size 8 / EU 42 which puts me in size 'L' for most manufacturer's fins, and which is the size I, therefore, requested for the demo kit. I was wearing 3mm stiff-soled booties but needed to tighten the fin straps almost as far as they would go. My feet were still secure, there was no wobble and I did not feel that power was in any way compromised, but it did mean that there was a lot of excess strap left flapping. I wondered if maybe the M-sized fins would have been a better option for me personally, given that I am not likely to wear super-thick boots any time soon.
The standard 'EZ-LOK' straps are pretty cool in a way, in that they don't have a buckle – they clip on and off of the post itself, rather than coming in two separate pieces. This is good because it negates that moment of existential dread when a diver unclips their fins and the opposing part of the buckle falls into the depths, never to be seen again. For the first ten dives of my trip, unclipping the strap and seeing a naked post did indeed fill me with existential dread, but after another ten dives I got used to the idea.
It's a better system than standard buckles, but – even though I didn't get to try them – I think that the optional spring strap might be better suited to the X1, with the caveat that the roomy foot pocket coupled with thin boots might require a smaller spring than other models of fins.
With the one exception of my failed attempt at back-finning wearing four tanks, after 30 dives, I found that the short, stiff blades of the X1 suited me very well indeed. They are, as advertised, highly manoeuvrable, suitable for a range of applications, and their short length and low weight are added bonuses when it comes to travel and packing.
All in all, I really liked the X1 Bladefin, and that's saying quite a lot, actually. The Volo Powers have been with me for over 3,000 dives, so breaking up with them feels a bit like swapping a long-term relationship for a younger model, but I'm not feeling especially guilty about that.
Sizes S, M, L, XL
Colours Blue, black, red, yellow, silver