Off the beaten career path

When you study law at university, your career is usually pretty much set in stone. You’ll graduate, complete your diploma, become qualified and that’s it. You’re on your way to becoming partner or opening your own law firm.

Dee Ripoll, on the other hand, became a qualified lawyer in 2011 and had no intention of becoming partner, or owning her own firm. As an avid surfer (and Ladies Scottish Surfing Champion 2011) Dee wanted to spend the day chasing waves and be free from the chains of a desk. Two years later, she now runs her very own surf school.

We caught up with Dee to find out why, and how, she left her desk for the cold waves of the North East Coast.


Hi Dee, thanks for taking the time to chat to us today! Spending everyday on the beach must be a blast. Can you tell us what your average day is like?

Well I’m actually spending the summer working for a surf school in France so I’m spending my days a little differently to how I would in Scotland. I usually cycle to work and then spend the day teaching. With my own surf school I’m responsible for all the ‘behind the scenes’ stuff as well as teaching. Before setting off for lessons I respond to emails, make sure the admin is up to date and then organise the wetsuits and boards for each class. After lessons are over I head home, get the wetsuits washed and then I’m done for the day. Although if I have evening lessons, I can be up until 11pm washing wetsuits!


So not exactly a typical day in the life of a lawyer! What made you originally train as a lawyer?

I always had the mindset of wanting to help others and be the person people would go to if in need. Being quite sporty at school, I did think of training as a PE teacher but after getting good grades in my Highers, teachers persuaded me to go for law and have sport as a hobby.


When did you realise that being a lawyer wasn’t for you?

I don’t think my heart was ever really in it and law never suited my personality. Like I said, I was into sport and also played drums in a band whilst studying for my undergrad. During my first tutorial of uni, the tutor asked everyone in the class what they wanted to do and most students had a definite plan, like being an advocate, and I said that I wanted to be a rockstar!


You dedicated a large part of your life to law even though you never really enjoyed it. What kept your spirits up throughout your training?

I was always pursuing other avenues and knew that law didn’t have to define my life. Playing the drums was a definitely a great release for any frustration and I started a second band, Evera, with my sister which I really enjoy and am still doing today. I discovered surfing during my fourth year at university which I really enjoyed and eveidently became a big part of my life.


When did you decide to take your career in another direction?

When I finished my training I was adamant that I was done with law but didn’t have a concrete plan. I was still playing music with Evera and was keen to make surfing a part of my career too. After winning the Scottish Surfing Championships a lot of doors were opened which allowed me to pursue surfing as a career. I decided to train as a beach lifeguard and surf instructor and began working for Granite Reef Surf School in Aberdeen.


How did you go about starting Coldwater Surf School?

I was working in France last summer also and when I came back I decided that I really wanted to set up my own business. The wheels were put in motion when I started writing the business plan and five months later, Coldwater Surf School was launched. It was a bit of financial strain at first but I had a part-time job as a nanny whilst getting everything set up and I’m delighted with how everything turned out.


How did your friends and family react to your decision to leave law?

I think they thought I was crazy at first and were naturally worried about my financial stability. But they knew my heart was never really in law and supported along the way. I could not have done it without them.


What was the most difficult aspect of starting over?

The initial doubt in my mind of, “What if I’ve made a mistake?” Although it passed quickly and I knew I had made the right decision.


Is there anything you miss about law?

There were parts I did enjoy: seeing how happy people were when you handed over keys to their new house or having that re-assurance that something you had worked on made such a difference in that person’s life. It wasn’t all bad.


If you had another chance, would you have done things differently?

Absolutely not. It made me the person I am today and I can always fall back on a legal career if I need to.


What advice would you give to others who are not enjoying their studies or job?

Follow your dreams and pursue the things in life that you have a true passion for.


Cold Water Surf School is based on the North-East beaches of Aberdeen, Banff and Fraserburgh. To find out more or book a lesson visit

Photo: Courtesy of Allyn Harper and Andrew Wilkie

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