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Meet Tessa Rhodes of Desert Aquaventures

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tessa Rhodes.

Tessa, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I never would’ve opened up a swim school if it wasn’t for my husband. So my story begins in 1993 when I met my husband, Ross. April 18th to be exact.

Easy to remember, because we met at Eric McCormack’s (of Will and Grace fame) 30th surprise birthday party. Ross, originally from LA moved to Vancouver, Canada in 1987.

Soon after relocating, he became a talent agent. And shortly after we met, he became MY agent. I was pursuing acting at the time as well as holding down a great job in the IT field. I felt lucky to have a career that easily paid the bills and allowed me to pursue acting. We married in 1998. That same year our son, Ethan was born. Yes, just seven months after the wedding day. I know what your thinking. Ethan is now in college majoring in film studies. What can I say? It runs in the family.

Our lives completely changed in 2004 when we moved to Hawaii and then Austin, Texas in 2008. Ross sold his agency and our house and off we went. Between the two of us, we held down four jobs (gymnastics instructor, drama instructor, wholesale flower farms sales and art gallery sales) and we were barely scraping by.

Completely different than the life we had in Vancouver. So, long story short. I guess that boat sailed. Ross’ dad passed away in 2010 and left his worldly possessions including his home in Palm Springs to Ross and his two brothers. We liked the house, so we decided to move in.

I was very happy to get the hell out of dodge. Well, Texas. The night before moving to California, there were tornado warnings. I was so scared that we weren’t going to get out alive. Thankfully, we made it.

As soon as we moved into our new home, my husband said that we should open up a swim school since our house came with an indoor pool. And there are no indoor swim schools in Palm Springs. “I’m not a swim instructor! I don’t know the first thing about teaching swimming!” I said.

About two years after my husband thought of opening up a swim school, I was at work at a gym as a gymnastics instructor, and I overheard a mother at the gym conversing with another mother during a mommy and me gymnastics class.

Mother number one said, “do you know of any indoor swim schools in the area?” “No.” Replied mother number two.
OMG! I thought to myself; we really should open a swim school. So, I approached mother number one and told her that I had an indoor pool and that if she wanted to hire a swim instructor, I would let them use my pool for lessons.
She replied, “I want you to teach my son.” “But I’m not a swim instructor,” I said. “Then become an instructor. You’d be great at it.” She said. I couldn’t wait to get home that day to tell Ross what had transpired. I immediately enrolled in a swim instructor certification program with the American Red Cross.

Together, Ross and I make a great team. His strengths are not mine, and my strengths are not his. He’s the best with sales, advertising, and social media campaigns. He’s the one who gets them to enroll.

And I get to focus on being the best that I can be at what I do. And in my search for new ways to teach my students and motivate them to want to learn, in addition to the American Red Cross curriculum, I discovered the perfect swim teacher training program.

It’s an ongoing professional development academy that allows me to continue to enhance my skills and pass on my knowledge to my students who by the way are benefiting greatly and becoming very confident in the water.
Today, six years later, Desert Aquaventures is a very successful swim school. I now have about sixty students, plus a waitlist. I love teaching swimming. I had no idea that it would be this rewarding.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I can’t complain. It’s been a pretty smooth road. Most of the challenges occurred in the first year that we opened. First, there was the fact that I was a brand new swim instructor with no previous experience. My very first student was 10-month-old Kyle, son of Mother Number One (her name is Maureen by the way). It was a relief that I was able to be completely transparent with Maureen since she knew I had never taught swimming before. It certainly took the pressure off.

Naturally, I needed more than one student, so Maureen kindly recruited a couple of more mom’s from the gym. Still, with many spots to fill, my husband shifted into high gear and got the job done. He did such a fantastic job of promoting Desert Aquaventures through social media, print ads, and brochure distribution through schools and other targeted facilities that just one year after we opened our doors, I was a full-time swim instructor and business owner.

Leaving a job as rewarding as gymnastics instruction was bittersweet. I enjoyed the time I had at the gym, and now I was on a new path. A path that turned out to be even more rewarding than I could imagine. Teaching a life skill like swimming and knowing that it could save the life of a child one day just feels right. It’s the best feeling ever!
So, I was gettin’ in the groove, feeling pretty good about my ability to teach, then suddenly I’m faced with the challenge to help a child conquer his fear of water. Uh oh! Not sure how to deal with this. In my search to find the best way to deal with water anxiety, I hit a roadblock. All the information out there was very vague. I needed more specific instructions with a step by step guide. Nothing of the sort existed. So I took it upon myself to fill a niche.
After loads of research and trial and error, I developed a series of techniques and exercises to help children overcome their fear of water and become confident swimmers. I now have a website that is devoted to helping children overcome their fear of water. You can visit it here at

Desert Aquaventures – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Established in 2013, Desert Aquaventures is the Coachella Valley’s only year-round, indoor swim school offering private lessons for ages six months to adult. We heat our saltwater pool to 90 degrees.

Ninety degrees is the ideal temperature especially for timid beginner swimmers who are working on getting comfortable with putting their faces in the water. Helping children overcome their fear of water became my specialty when I realized the widespread presence of aquaphobia.

In fact, most of my students are not comfortable with water on their faces when they first sign up for lessons. And breath control (the ability to hold your breath and put your face in the water for at least 10 seconds) is the first step in the learn to swim process.

What sets us apart from the competition is the recognition that my swim school has received. I have the only swim school in the Coachella Valley with all 5-star reviews on Yelp.

I am so grateful to all the families that took the time to write the most wonderful reviews. Thank you! I wouldn’t be a successful business owner if it weren’t for you and all the other families that have put their trust into my hands by enrolling their children in Desert Aquaventures.

And in addition to having the only indoor swim school with a saltwater pool set to a warm and comfortable 90 degrees, there are a few other things that set us apart from other swim schools in the area. First is my continued effort to educate parents of children with a fear of water through my website which is dedicated to the subject.

I also send out a water safety newsletter regularly which is intended to bring awareness to the world of the alarming statistics of drowning and how to prevent it.

And finally, I create YouTube videos that are filled with great tips to motivate children to want to learn to swim. I post these videos on my Desert Aquaventures Facebook page and in my private Facebook group which was established for swim instructors and parents of kids with aquaphobia.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
There’s more than one moment. It’s every time one of my students conquers their fear of water. It makes me proud and honored to be a part of their journey, and it also makes me the happiest person on the planet to see their confidence skyrocket.

And finally, none of this would have come to fruition if not for my husband. I’m the owner of a successful swim school because of Ross. Life is once again on the right track.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Tessa Rhodes, Ethan Rhodes, Michael Derbigny

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