Question Maximizing pool training for under $500 without ongoing costs?

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None - Not Certified
I don't really have the money to go all in on learning to dive now, but I want to prep as much as I can in my local pool. Budget around $500 max.

As far as I can tell there is no way to do this with compressed air, because there is no reasonably inexpensive way of refilling pony bottles every day, esp. if you are a long drive from the nearest dive shop as I am. And I don't think the pool management would appreciate a hookah system.

So my plan is to do low-key freediving, emulating scuba in bouts of around a minute or two.

So far this is my equipment:
1. A full face integrated snorkeling mask (I got before the scuba interest)
2. Force Fins (used)

I am thinking I should be buying at least the following things now in this order:
3. A weight belt or vest and coated lead weights to achieve neutral buoyancy. Figuring out what I need by bringing increasingly large dumbbells and testing.
4. A real scuba mask (the one place I'd try to avoid skimping on cost) and
5. A separate snorkel (thinking a dry one)

My thought is this all should let me practice as much as I can within my budget. But I'm a total noob so would love feedback!
ABSOLUTELY good idea - building snorkel/freedive skills in the pool will make you a better diver. More people should approach it this way. You can practice a lot of the skills (like mask remove/replace, kicking technique, ditching weight, etc.) freediving in a pool then go into the certification class comfortable as a fish.

Ditch the full face mask and get a well fitting normal mask and basic snorkel. Fit is more important than cost. I've used $30 masks and $150 masks, both work the same. Anything above walmart-tier will work fine IF IT FITS YOU WELL. A fancy ill-fitting mask will be unfun. This is a good time to go into a real dive shop and get fitted for a mask in-person. A good shop will let you try on options for every shape and budget. I like adding a neoprene strap pad to my masks for comfort.

Get a rubber weight belt, they are more comfortable and resistant to slipping off: 55" (140cm) Rubber Weight Belt with Marseillaise SS Buckle "Black"

Snorkel - basic cheap J snorkels are fine, most serious freedivers actually don't bother with dry snorkels. Dry snorkels still get water in them. Your choice though, both will work, I use both interchangably.
The full face snorkeling mask is probably not suitable for any (free)diving practice.

Few words of caution:
- Breathing patterns are really different in freediving (do not breathe out before surfacing) and scuba (no breatholds!). Breatholding while ascending when doing scuba is dangerous.
- If you do any freediving practice you should have a dedicated buddy available who can rescue you in case of a blackout
- Your pool lifeguard is not your buddy and may not appreciate what you are doing

Is there a local diving club that has pool days you could join?

Things that could be practiced in a pool:
- Being relaxed in water
- Proper kicking technique with fins
- Mask clearing
- Equalization
I guess I’m curious as to what you’re going to practice. People have died in pools doing ill-advised breath hold practice .
I use Force Fins. They take a different kind of kick that is different than other fins. They take some time in the pool learning how to use them.
You mentioned that you aren't ready at this point for full Scuba certification.

If that's the case, then what do you want to get better at before taking a certification course?

Without full scuba gear, you will be limited in what you are able to do. I absolutely would not recommend using any sort of compressed air equipment prior to certification unless you are under the watch of an instructor.

Back when I was first certified, we had to supply our own mask, fins, snorkel, and weight belt. The shop would supply the rest. However, that was before most BCs were weight integrated, so I think today, the weight belt isn't really required.

I think you are right in your approach for the most part.
Ditch the full face snorkel mask. Get a mask you can use for scuba. Fit is important. You don't necessarily need one dedicated to scuba, but you do want to ensure it has tempered glass, and a real silicone skirt. Nose should be able to be pinched as you'll probably learn valsalva early. A low volume mask (often for free diving) would be good as it takes less to clear. You would be able to practice mask clearing in a shallow section with a low volume mask. You should have enough air in your lungs to be able to do this once maybe twice before needing to take a breath.

For that reason, a weight belt would help, but be prepared that you may not use it again.

Probably the best you can work on is to be comfortable in the water. Particularly with a mask off of your face. That is one area I hear that people struggle with during the course. They are good until they have to take their mask off.

And ear equalization techniques. Research the various methods and find what works best for you. You can do this out of the water.

No real need for a dry snorkel. A simple J tube is really all that's needed. I don't usually take a snorkel, but they can be helpful if there is a long surface swim required. I use a soft roll up snorkel that I can roll up in my pocket. It has a small attachment clip that stays on my mask strap. I can attach it without having to take my mask off.
Force fins are probably going to be an anomaly in your OW course. I would personally get a pair of Mares Avanti fins [used are fine] and do the standard flutter kick for classes.
i am a bit confused as to why you cannot get your basic open water certification for your $500 budget?
i am a bit confused as to why you cannot get your basic open water certification for your $500 budget?
My open water course was $499. Add basic required equipment, rental equipment and open water dive costs and your about $1000.
My open water course was $499. Add basic required equipment, rental equipment and open water dive costs and your about $1000.
Yeah depending on where I go it's either pretty much that or a place that does all rentals for a little less.

However besides the OW class itself being around twice my budget for now, there's also a need to use the new skills or forget them, so not only do I want to be in a comfortable financial situation to take the class, but also to be able to go diving after it pretty soon and then several times a year.

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