Avid waterman and 1932 Gold Medal Olympic sailor Owen Churchill can be credited with significantly improving and transforming snorkeling and SCUBA diving with his swimfin design. To recoup from a disappointing show in the 1936 Olympics, he leased an island in Tahiti for two years, where he was first exposed to both the traditional Tahitian style of palm frond fins and an early French Navy model designed by Louis de Corlieu. His original fins, invented in 1914 and patented in 1933, were later licensed to Owen Churchill for production in 1939. With various modifications and improvements, Churchill was granted his own patent in 1943.
British and American commandos were Owen’s first big customers back in 1940. The original fins were black—and, they sank. Later, with advances in natural gum rubber formulas and vulcanization, color could be added and the fins made floatable. Green was the defacto color then, and later, the blue and gold Churchill “stiff blades” called Makapus became very popular.
Originally used primarily for skin and SCUBA diving, today Churchill fins have been universally adopted by body surfers and boogie boarders to their wave-riding sports as well. Since they are still manufactured, marketed and hugely popular more than 70 years after their introduction, the name Churchill has become permanently carved into the modern waterman’s (and woman’s) lexicon.