Fierce Females No. 35: Renee Taylor, freediver, spearfisher, speech-language therapist and founder of water-women community Salt Aotearoa
••• Freediver, spearfisher, speech-language therapist and founder of water-women community Salt Aotearoa in New Zealand Renee Taylor lives a life in deep appreciation of “moana”, her rich cultural heritage including Māori background, and the lessons learned from a deeper connection to nature. We caught up with Renee and discover all about moana and her awesome work inspiring and supporting equitable pathways to the ocean.
Hi Renee! How are you, where are you in the world?
Kia ora, I am bloody good thanks! I live in Wharekaho (Simpson’s beach) on the Coromandel Peninsular in Aotearoa New-Zealand.
Your business sounds absolutely awesome and fascinating. Can you tell me about the ethos of Salt Aotearoa?
Salt Aotearoa is a community of water wāhine (women). We aim to inspire connection to self and to the moana (ocean) through freediving and kaimoana (seafood). We facilitate this mainly through hosting freediving workshops and camps for wāhine We really just want to inspire and support equitable pathways to the ocean. This speaks to so many things like improved mental and physical health, (kai) food sovereignty through learning the skills to collect kaimoana, with a huge emphasis on water safety throughout the journey.
What is “Moana”?
Many people will associate “Moana” with that Disney movie now (great movie by the way), but in te reo māori (the māori language) it refers to the ocean. It’s also my older sisters name!
I love the notion of encouraging the restoration of balance within the ocean through a feminine lens! Tell me more....
“Like many industries, those in the ocean are often male dominated. Freediving and spearfishing was no different when I first started out. And although the world is definitely changing and heading in the right direction, using a feminine lens was our way of supporting a more gentle and nurturing kaupapa (purpose initiative) which speaks not just to women, but to everyone.”
To move away from the macho and toward the nurturing. So being more gentle and conscious of when and where we access the moana, when and how we take form her, and how we utilise those resources. Through the mauri of wahine- through the essence of the feminine.
Tell me about your back story, where are you from? You have mixed heritage right?
I am a mixed bag, like many of us. I do however have quite a unique mix though. I’m Albanian, Māori, English, Scottish. All corners of the world! Think Taika Waititi and Rita Ora- if they had babies they would be a very similar mix ;) I was born in Taranaki, grew up in Auckland, and now live in Wharekaho/ Simpsons Beach on the Coromandel Peninsular.
I work as a Speech-language Therapist as my main mahi (job/work). I support our older adults with communication and swallowing difficulties in their final stages of life. It’s super rewarding but also emotionally quite intense. That’s how Salt Aotearoa was born. From burn out essentially! I needed to find a way to keep my own wairua (spirit) in balance, and I found that in the ocean.
What is your māori heritage, and how do you incorporate it into daily life?
My māori heritage is exactly that, it’s my whakapapa- my geneolgy.
I whakapapa to
Ko Takitimu te waka,
ko Tauranga te moana,
ko Mauao te maunga,
ko Ngāti Ranginui te iwi,
ko Ngāti Hangarau te hapū,
ko Hangarau te marae,
Ko Renee Taylor ahau,
That’s me. Well part of me. As I explained, I come from many places. I didn’t grow up knowing much about my māoritanga so it hasn’t been until my later years that I’ve been able to start the journey of reconnecting with my indigineity. So it may appear to some that I only acknowledge this part of me, but really It’s just that I’m dedicating more time to it now because I have to play catch up. And there’s a sh*t load to catch up on, of which carries a sh*t load of emotions. But it’s bloody beautiful and it’s so worth it.
How did learning to freedive and spearfish change your life?
"I think it enriched my life, rather than changed it. It taught me I could be strong in my indigeneity even though I haven’t got my language back yet, even though I’m only just learning everything now as an adult. It taught me how to be calm, present and relaxed. It taught me to respect the ocean, and to respect myself. It taught me to go slow and act with intention (although I don’t this right all of the time haha). Freediving taught me a lot about the taiao (natural world) and about myself."
How often do you get in the water?
You’d think that I lived in the ocean, but the reality is that with all the work I do I only get out every now and then. Although, if the weather is good I am lucky that I live close to the ocean so I can go diving much more easily now! Which is an absolute privilege. Being able to hunt our own kaimoana (seafood) is such an important activity and lifestyle for me.
How can we day by day practice some of the beautiful ideas you share through Salt Aotearoa?
It’s all about CPR
Connect - Connect with the natural world, the ocean, and with yourself.
Protect – With connection comes a drive to want to protect. We Protect what we love after all!
Respect – Respect our natural world, our moana, our wildlife, and ourselves.
Had you always been a water baby?
I’d always loved the water, but in the city this was limited to pools mainly. So I did lots of team swimming. And loved the ocean when we could visit it. But I didn’t come a family that was very outdoorsy. I leaned into my ocean side in my 30’s! So it proves you can start at any age! You don’t have to have been brought up by the ocean to find a connection there.
What’s magical about where you live?
I live in a beautiful part of Aotearoa. The Coromandel Peninsular is honestly breath- taking. Everything about it is magical. The ocean, the people, the adventures, the lifestyle. You’ll need to come see for yourself one day ;)
Are most people there deeply connected to the ocean?
In one way or another everyone here is influenced by the moana. Whether it’s just by walking along the beach, enjoying it as a holiday destination, or working, breathing, and living it. The moana touches everyone here for sure.
I often tell people that if you do a freedive course and learn the breathing and relaxation associated with freediving and never enter the water again, you’ll still benefit from it. The concepts embedded in freediving are relaxation, deep breathing, relaxation, and being mindful and present in the moment. All of these ingredients can have positive impacts on all aspects of life, not just giving you better bottom time on a dive!
What did you love about your SLO Active suit? How did it fit, how did it feel?
It fits snug and feels like a second skin. I love how the cut is practical but also makes ya feel like a queen.
Was your SLO suit a great item to wear on your adventures?
I've used it when I'm teaching freediving in a warm pool which has been cool, but also in the lake and ocean in the warmer months and I'm just having fun playing around freediving.