A born-and-raised Okotokian is making waves in the world of competitive freediving.

Taylor Reidlinger originally moved to Victoria B.C. to pursue a career in marine biology, which reconciled her love of animals with the fact that she’s allergic to fur.

She’s lived there for about 12 years now and has only been freediving for two years.

Her introduction to the sport came naturally, given her line of work and interest in marine life.

Recreational snorkeling led to Reidlinger taking courses in freediving and spearfishing after a recommendation from a friend and from there, she made a connection to Jana Strain, a competitive freediver who has been doing so for decades now.

Swain was looking to recruit some divers for pool training at the time, and nowadays she’s supporting Reidlinger’s growth as a competitive freediver.

Reidlinger is now pursuing and breaking records under AIDA (International Association for the Development of Apnea).

Competitions range across several disciplines both in a pool setting and an open water setting.

Objectives vary from discipline to discipline, and include distance traveled horizontally, distance traveled in terms of depth, and the amount of time spent in the water.

Reidlinger has largely been training with Dynamic disciplines, where divers aim to propel themselves horizontally, often with the use of fins worn on their feet.

“Jana as a coach and mentor was encouraging me to try to break her now 14-year-old dynamic Canadian national record in the pool, which was the mono fin, so I trained for that when I first started, I have not done so yet. Based on not having my own mono fin, I focused a lot on no fins in the pool over the winter. That’s actually the record I just set, the Canadian national record for Dynamic with no fins (DNF) in the pool which is now at 133 metres,” she says.

She just returned from Acapulco, Mexico, where she competed in the 2023 Olmeca Open, taking the top spot in Dynamic with Fins (DYN), Dynamic Without Fins (DNF), Dynamic With Bi-Fins (DYNB), and placing first overall.

It’s a sport that Reidlinger quickly excelled at and has grown to love, partially because of its inclusive and supportive community.

“Last year, to get that number two spot when I was new, I was borrowing Jana’s monofin. Just the community of support that I’ve encountered has made this whole journey so pleasant. It’s super supportive with strangers and my dive buddies alike. People are always willing to lend equipment and give you any insights they’ve discovered for themselves. It’s been really great for that.”

Physically, she feels like she’s always been up to the task, but she says there’s a lot more going on with freediving.

“I’ve always been really comfortable with the water. I’ve also always been an athlete and a moderately strong swimmer, I actually used to be a lifeguard at the pool in Okotoks, so I have that going for me.”

“It’s very much the mental space that’s hard for me. Learning how to know you're okay even when your body is sending you signals that your carbon dioxide is building up and you should probably breathe soon even though you don’t have stop. For me, it’s very much the mental side of things I’ve been exploring and developing.”

Being a relatively new sport, there are new strategies emerging, something that Reidlinger is excited to be involved in.

“Freedivers around the world are still learning a lot about the physiology. There used to be a mentality that if you hyperventilated and lowered your carbon dioxide, you’d be able to hold your breath longer. We’ve since learned that that’s actually very dangerous because the balance of carbon dioxide and oxygen in your blood, they play off one another. Hyperventilating makes your body give up its oxygen more readily, and you need oxygen to keep your tissues awake and alive.”

Reidlinger is hoping the sport continues to grow in popularity, which she feels has been stifled a bit by the perception of dangers associated with it.

“There are risks, of course, but they’re highly managed. I think it helps if people get interested and look into the sport and how we train with CO2 tables for that feeling of discomfort and not blacking out or being hypoxic to any extent. I think that would make the sport more acceptable for pools to host. It’s hard to find places to train because there’s a lot of misconceptions about holding your breath underwater.”

She says you’d be surprised at how accessible and inclusive it is.

“You don’t necessarily need to be by the ocean to freedive and train those skills, nor do you need it to compete if that’s what you want to do. I started at 32. There are many freedivers in their 50s and many who are much younger. It’s a fairly low impact so it can be really inclusive of lots of different people and body types. I think it would be amazing to have a stronger freediving community in Canada.”