A confident and efficient monofin turn is vital for anyone doing dynamics; however, it is a bit difficult to pull together all the information necessary to both decide what kind of turn to do, and to educate yourself on how to do it. To that end, I thought it would be productive to put this all in one place, so here is your own personal monofin turn resource.
There are many different types of monofin turns. Each one can be done efficiently. Some are more useful in particular situations or with particular fins. I encourage people to try all of them and pick the ones they like. I would especially encourage people teaching monofin turns to learn all of them. Just as in most other things in freediving, what works for one may not necessarily work for everyone. Personally, I love throwing different turns into dynamics - keeps things interesting. One note, I gave these turns names so I could teach them and talk about them here. Certainly there are other names in use for some of them that I am unaware of.
General Monofin Turn Rules
1. None of these turns require you to use the bottom as some sort of guide to get you through the turn. If you learn them correctly, you will not need that. That practice could get you penalized in a competition if a judge were to deem your use of the bottom propulsion.
2. The fin must always follow the feet through the turn rather than be forced sideways through it. The only exception to this is when using a rigid winged fin, such as one of the DOL-Fins, or perhaps a Lunocet. The reason for that is a rigid wing will slide sideways without warping while a normal monofin will not. Once a monofin warps in this way, it can go in very unpredictable directions - not a good thing. The monofin does, however, lend itself well to being twisted and steered. The first video in the Outside Turn section below is very good demonstration of both the successful and unsuccesful applications of this concept.
3. The hand that pushes off the wall is always the opposite of the direction you are turning - right turn, left hand pushes off the wall, left turn, right hand pushes off. The exception to this is the flip turn, in which both hands push off the wall at the same time. The reason is that if the wrong hand is closer to the wall, you have gone too far in the turn motion, and if you have not, then that hand will not be closest to the wall and you will have to reach across your body to push off with it. Aside from all of that, you will be using that hand later to help line you up properly at the end of the turn. If you push off with it, even if you could, it would be at least inefficient and perhaps very cumbersome to do that and later use it to straighten you out.
This one is the one most like a bi-fin turn and probably the quickest to learn. I call them “push-off turns” for obvious reasons. The flip turns I cover later are, strictly speaking, also push-off turns, but they are unique enough that I prefer to give them a different classification.
I don't know who the divers are in the first video as I cannot read French, but the video is great. I suspect the first diver occasionally has problems with fin warping. You can even see it starting when viewed from behind. A bit of longitudinal rotation like the second diver would help with that. Remember, fin should always follow feet though a turn. It helps to take a look at the divers' positions when they first touch the wall with their hands. For the second diver, the turn is pretty much done by then, while the first diver's fin has barely changed position at all.
Ilaria Bonin does an interesting variation of this turn as she completes the rotation after leaving the wall.
Amber Bourke does a similar turn at the 150 meter point of her 191 meter dynamic at the 2nd MDC Poolmaster Apnea Challenge 2015 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This variation of the push-off turn is particularly useful in shallow water, as she ably demonstrates in the following video.
Natalia Molchanova enters her push-off turns very similarly to how she did them in her 2010 World Championship swim with the DOL-Fin ORCA which you will see later. There are some differences, however. In this swim she pushes off the wall, while in 2010, she did not. To facilitate the push-off you see here, she bends her knees slightly as she brings the fin around to the wall. With the ORCA, her legs were straight, and the fin never needed to touch the wall.
Many thanks to Daan Verhoeven for capturing the illusive Natalia-turn on video. There is not much video available of Natalia's dynamics, and what exists is usually shot from the middle of a 50 meter pool - not much use for our purposes here.
Next, Alexey Molchanov turns at 50 and 150 meters. Alexey keeps his shoulders parallel with the bottom of the pool while rotating his lower body to guide the fin through the turn. I am pretty sure that position would put me in the hospital, but Alexey does it nicely. Thanks Alexey, for letting me use this video.
Finally, Radziah Radzi ably demonstrates some push-off turns. Watch how her fin flows through her turns, and the longitudinal rotation going into the turn. She sets herself up perfectly before she even touches the wall.
I call these “outside turns” because you are generally facing the wall during the turn. These turns are great if done correctly. Their one disadvantage is that sometimes, particularly when done in shallow water, they can be a bit wide, so ladders and lane ropes can sometimes be issues. The good news is that, when done well, you get a great stroke off of the wall. Katarina turns are also outside turns, but they are special enough that I will separate them here.
In the first video, Wayne Judge and Patrick Frost show what can happen with this turn. The first diver in the video executes a lovely outside turn, exiting the turn with a nice effective stroke. The second diver fails to properly rotate going into the turn. As a consequence, the legs and fin are pointing up on the entry to the turn, causing the fin to warp and dive during the turn. The first stroke off the wall is then basically wasted. I think in general it is best to have the lower legs as parallel to the bottom of the pool as possible when entering this turn so that the fin follows the legs through the turn. To aid in accomplishing that, start the rotation around your longitudinal axis before you get to the wall. Another hint - try to eliminate or at least minimize any bend at your hips, as that induces drag.
Melanie shows us some lovely turns. I think she likes the left turns best.
I fly the ORCA through an outside turn in a fairly shallow 1.2 meters of water. This turn can be done like this, or with relatively more rotation as you see in Katarina Zubčić's turns.
Finally, Kathryn Nevatt executes this turn nicely. Thanks to the judge for letting me into the warmup zone (no competitors working in there) for the video, and to Kathryn for letting me use it.
This turn can also be done quite nicely with bi-fins. Andrea Kawabata set the USA DYN national record a few years ago in Okinawa using bi-fins, monofin technique, and this turn. It was perhaps the prettiest DYN I have ever seen. Unfortunately, I cannot show the video as it is proprietary.
I separate the Katarina turn from other outside turns because it has achieved somewhat of a life of its own lately. Somone (not I) called it the "perfect turn." I find it difficult to disagree with that assessment.
The first video is not that great, but you can see that Katarina (Turčinović) Zubčić literally rockets out of her turns. I would love for my turns to be like Katarina’s.
The second video is a compilation of the turns in her 218 meter DYN. The video is much better.
Third, we see Katarina turn in normal and slow motion.
Then, Giorgos Panagiotakis wows the world with a stunning 300 meter dynamic at the 2016 AIDA World Pool Championships. Sometime before the World Championships in 2015, I believe, George started using these turns. This is the first good video I have found of them.
Next, I do a slower demonstration of Katarina's turn.
Finally, Kimberley Chai glides through a couple of nice Katarina Turns. These last two videos are good examples of this turn being performed in shallow water. As you can see, it is effortless, and even in shallow water, it is possible to keep the fin submerged through the stroke off the wall.
The advantage to Katarina's technique is that she gets way more out of it in terms of distance and is much quicker through the turn. In her 218 meter DYN, She averages about 1.5 seconds per turn from her hand touching the wall to the end of her stroke off the wall. By comparison, none of the other turns in this article were even in the same ballpark as this. Even my "slow" Katarina turn was not all that slow at right around two seconds.
For a much more in-depth discussion of Katarina's turns, see my article "The Katarina Turn" on this site.
Here I use the Katarina turn technique in an unusual way - to execute face-up starts. I am not sure if I am the first to try this, but I have never seen it before. I did it because during a normal start, my knees are up toward my chest, so getting a full breath is problematic, and I am not very relaxed. A face-up start is very relaxing and the breath is easy.
This turn by Natalia Molchanova is unique. Though her more recent turns resemble it is some ways, this one is definitely not a push-off turn. I call it the “inside turn” because you are generally facing the inside of the pool, vice the wall, during the turn. In the first two videos, Natalia uses this turn in a 217 meter dynamic. The video does not showcase this turn very well, but you can see what she is doing. I do one in the last video to give you a closer look and probably the best view of this turn.
This is a very relaxing turn. It can be a bit wide though, so you have to be careful to do it in a way that does not entangle you with ladders and lane ropes.
For a more in-depth discussion of inside turns, see my article "Inside Turns" on this site.
Side-Spin or Single-Axis Turns
This turn is particularly useful when using a fin with a rigid wing like a DOL-Fin. It is so named because during the turn, you are staying almost completely on the horizontal axis. It is the ugliest of the turns, but it is really easy to do. If I am having trouble doing turns in a dynamic, I always revert back to this turn. It is not suitable for a normal monofin though because as you are turning, the fin blade will tend to warp, sending the fin in unpredictable directions, and making the exit stroke clumsy and inefficient. For you Lunocet folks, this turn may work for you as well.
Here Ron Smith and I swim the DOL-Fin ORCA.
Wes Lapp famously used these turns during a 172 meter US national record DYN. I don't know how he did it, swimming face up like that. He learned this technique from former US DNF national record holder Glenn Garrett. I think I remember seeing video of Glenn somewhere doing DNFs face up. Better him than me, is all I can say. Thanks again to Performance Freediving for letting me use this video in this way.
Pete Botman represents using a proper monofin. This turn does not take as much vertical distance as you might think. The ledge in this video is about 1.5 meters from the bottom, and during this turn, Pete's head never goes above the ledge while his fin never hits the bottom.
Finally you see Radzia Radzi and I doing flip turns.
I hope this has been productive and that you are all catching some of the enthusiasm I have for this subject. It is a nice moment when you have been having trouble with turns and you finally get it right. It will change your dynamics forever. I hope that in some way what we have shared here will help move that process along for you.