In the sports performance gear world they call this biomimicry. Speedo used the technique—designing gear based off nature—for its brand-new Nemesis Fin.
The nature of choice? The pectoral fin of the humpback whale.
The swimming fins feature scalloped outer edges, mimicking the tubercles on the humpback whale’s fin. The design generates a larger surface area for water to pass over versus a smooth edge, enhancing propulsion and allowing the swimmer to push more water during training in order to maximize a workout.
Barry McGeough, Speedo USA’s vice president of hardgoods, says the company has gone to sea creatures before, using shark skin to inspire a line of racing swimsuits. This time, though, they found something from a whale.
“We’ve built new technology for swimmers of all levels using what we’ve learned from studying the humpback whale, which moves through water with incredible speed and agility considering its massive body size and small fin size,” he says.
The edge openings—blow valves—of the Nemesis Fins come larger on the bottom and smaller on the top, similar to the humpback’s pectoral fin. Science shows this captures water on the underside to create more resistance on the down kick. Flow channels on the fins guide water to rotate the foot into the correct orientation for maximum kick efficiency.
The naturally buoyant injection-molded EVA foam helps elevate the swimmer’s feet to keep their hips and feet in an elevated position while developing the perfect swimming motion.
All this biomimicry training brings swimming to new technological depths.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.