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Laguna Beach

 Volume 13, Issue 61  |  July 30, 2021


Laguna Fin Company brings game changer to the world of swimming and water polo

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

 “I can’t believe how comfortable they are,” is the reaction that James Wood – CEO, owner, and president of Laguna Fin Company – hears whenever someone tries his revolutionary fins. 

These endorsements simply back up his claim that, “It’s the most comfortable fin on the planet.”

“It serves as an extension of your foot,” James says. “I wanted to come out with a fin which was not only comfortable but also gives you the power you need in the ocean and in the pool.”

Swimmer Kaitlin Sandemo, 2000 and 2004 Olympian Gold, Silver, and two-time Bronze Medalist, is owning partner and the face of Laguna Fin Company.

After a photo shoot with Kaitlin, who James met through mutual friends, she tested the fins. “These are game changers,” she said. 

Although they can’t be used for competition, they can be used for training and work in all four of the competitive swimming strokes – butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle. 

“They are the only fins in the world that can be used to train for all four Olympic swimming events,” James says.

Laguna roots

When it comes to fins, James speaks from experience. Growing up in Laguna, he spent a lot of time in the water. From swimming at Laguna Beach High School and participating in Laguna Beach Junior Lifeguards programs, he knew there was something better out there. 

“Back then, my fins wouldn’t even fit in my backpack,” he says. “And every fin I can remember was blister-giving, heavy, uncomfortable, and one-size only. We needed a change.”

James was raised in a North Laguna home his parents built in 1979 – the house in which they still live. He went to Presbyterian pre-school, El Morro Elementary, and Thurston Middle School. After LBHS, he went to Loyola Marymount University and graduated with a degree in history. From a very athletically minded family, James, his brother, and sister played sports all through high school. At one time, his father was president of Laguna Beach Little League. 

Laguna Fin closeup

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James Wood, owner, president, and CEO of Laguna Fin Company

Giant evolutionary step

Swim fins have come a long way since the first ones were created by Voit in 1944 during WWII for the US Navy Underwater Demolition Team (UDT – 

precursor to the Navy SEALS). Then with the post-war recreation market peaking, Voit released the Duckfeet Custom Model swim fin in 1953. Shorter and more flexible than the UDT, Duckfeet became a standard fin for bodysurfing, lifeguarding, and recreational diving.

Over the years, the concept changed little, but in 2017 when Laguna Fin Company was launched, fins took a giant evolutionary step forward.

Prior to this, “In the 2000s, when I was 15 or 16, my father and brother bought the concept from a friend’s design,” says James. However, James’ brother never quite followed through with it and instead he decided to become a Real Estate Developer like his father.

In 2017, when the fitness craze hit, James rekindled the project, going through a few prototypes until it was right. Laguna Fin Company was put into motion out of their home office, Wood Investment Co, on Broadway Ave.

“My dad had just undergone his third back surgery, and the doctor said that swimming was one thing he could do,” says James.

James is still involved in the family business, but the fin company has taken over most of his time. “This is pretty much a one-man show,” he says. “I only have two part-time employees.”

Surprisingly, he says that 70 percent of their orders are from out of state.

What makes this fin a game changer?

“Most fins have one mold, are spit out of a machine, and are made of rubber,” James says. “Instead, we took a neoprene, Surfline booty, attached the adjustable strap to it, then built a blade which is double-stitched completely around the foot mold. It takes three factories to put them together, which is one of the many unique aspects of our fin.”

Laguna Fin all

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Youth and adult fins come in a variety of colors 

“We have found a bit of a niche,” says James. “They are also used for water polo training to build ankle strength since the players can flex their ankles while wearing them.”

They sponsor two tri-athletes and open water swimmers who say that because of the short blades, they get a true pushing motion in the ocean. 

Benefits

“Our fin works as a training tool, bodysurfing fin, benefiting a first-time swimmer to a four-time Olympic medalist. There are benefits for everyone with the fin – whether it be the comfort or the adjustability – especially with the rate that youth feet grow. We want a fin that everyone loves and makes them more comfortable in the water and benefits their swimming aspirations and goals.”

The list of benefits of the Laguna Fin is a long one:

Features: polymer blade, reinforced toe pocket, double stitching, neoprene foot pocket, hidden arch strap, reinforced neoprene heel strap, adjustable sizing, open heel, non-slip protective sole, and they are lightweight. 

“I have received several emails from people in Hawaii saying that the protective sole helps when walking on the coral reefs over there,” says James.

Youth size fits ages 3-11 years. Adult comes in S/L/XL and can extend to size 22. It weighs 1 lb, 3 oz, and the youth size weighs 15 oz.

They are adjustable in length and width, which accommodates people who have two different shoe sizes or have wide feet.

They even adapt to swimmers who can’t wear traditional fins. “A woman who lost half of her foot came up to me at an event in Redondo Beach,” says James. “She couldn’t wear regular rubber fins, but she tried ours and was able to use them because of the adjustable straps. She said the fins changed her whole life.”

Also, because they are adjustable, a couple can wear the same size when traveling. 

It’s easy to walk into the ocean with them, no waiting until you get in the water to put them on. 

They come in a variety of colors and can be personalized on the heel strap.

They are 100 percent floatable (so no losing a fin in the ocean), and they are small and lightweight and easy to travel with. 

Laguna Fin holding up

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Benefits of Laguna Fins are countless

Youth size

Laguna Fin Company just introduced its youth size in December of 2020. it fits ages 3-11 and just as the adult fins, are adjustable in both width and length. 

“If kids are uncomfortable in their fins, they won’t want to go into the water,” says James. “Kids put them on, and they don’t want to take them off. The youth fin (3-11 years) will adjust and fit a child for several years until they graduate into the small adult size. Then they can be passed down to younger brothers or sisters.” 

More Olympian connections 

Other Olympians have also endorsed the fins – such as 2008 Bronze Medalist Caroline Burckle. “Laguna Fins has changed my relationship with the water,” she says.

Cammile Adams, 2012 and 2016 Olympian, says, “Laguna Fins is an amazing product I wish I had while I was training.”

They are endorsed by Mark Schubert, eight-time USA Olympic Team Coach and founder of The Matadores Swim Club, who offers high praise. “Laguna Fins are an outstanding and unique training device. They have a very comfortable foot pocket that allows fast kicking movement. They can teach any swimmer with the physiological aptitude to turn their feet out properly. It’s a great tool for developing every stroke.”

“The fins are like extensions of the foot. They build the legs to make swimmers strong,” says James. “With the short blade, you don’t have to make adjustments in stroke and then the extension of the foot helps you push on take- off.”

A multitude of swim clubs use Laguna Fins – US Swimlabs, LBHS, Rocket Fish Swim Club LBC, Mission Viejo Matadores, Air Force, Air Force Wounded Warriors, and clubs throughout the Midwest, New Jersey, New York, South Africa, and the UK.

Giving back

A very high priority of Laguna Fin Company is to start a nonprofit organization. 

“One of the names we’ve been considering is LAPS (Let All People Swim),” says James. “We’ve been in talks with many people and are a great advocate of Uganda and are hoping to have things set soon and be able to personally visit there to donate fins and help people swim around the world.”

Laguna Fin sitting

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James hopes to start a nonprofit LAPS

Right now in Uganda, kids are using cut coffee cans with laces around their feet – to keep them on – as swim fins. “I plan to change as much as I possibly can for these kids and adults too,” James says.

Having fins prevents drownings. There are 3,500 to 4,000 drowning deaths per year in the U.S. – about 10 per day.

James wants to help change these statistics. “We not only want to improve master swimming and Olympian swimming; we also want to get kids to learn to love the water in fins and be comfortable with the water. If our fins can help them improve their water skills, and prevent tragedies later in life, we have accomplished one of our many goals.”

As much as possible, they also make donations to underprivileged swim clubs – from the South Central Boys & Girls Club, to Oasis Aquatics in Lancaster. “We try to do a holiday giveaway every year,” says James, “or at least donate to as many charities as possible.”

Laguna Fin Company is certainly not treading water.

“We have grown organically since December of 2017,” says James. “We just launched on Amazon last week.”

For more information about Laguna Fin Company, go to www.lagunafin.com.

 

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Maggi Henrikson, Marrie Stone, Sara Hall, Stacia Stabler and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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