Webmaster blags his way into the surf set

Viewers of last night's (6 November) Faking It programme on Channel 4 will have witnessed Web developer Stuart Matheson's efforts...

Viewers of last night's (6 November) Faking It programme on Channel 4 will have witnessed Web developer Stuart Matheson's efforts to become a long-board surfer, writes Nathalie Towner.

Every week the programme takes someone out of their everyday life and gives them intensive tuition in a new role. At the end of the month they are put to the test in front of a panel of experts who have to spot the person who is "faking it". Previous shows in the series have seen a city lawyer become a garage music MC, a kick boxer turn to ballroom dancing and an ex-navy officer become a drag queen.

Matheson's employer, recruitment consultancy Elan, was approached by the Faking It team, who were looking for Web-based IT professionals.

"I was really interested in getting on to the programme," says Matheson, who has been a Web developer for five years and Elan's Webmaster for the past two and a half years. "It was not that I was an addict of the series but it sounded like an awesome experience and a great chance to get out of London."

To get through the selection process he had to talk about his background and give taped interviews to check that he would come across well on screen.

"They also made me do a bit of tightrope walking to check that I had some sense of balance," he says. This would prove to be an essential skill for the month Matheson was to spend in St Agnes in Cornwall.

Matheson spent four weeks living in a beach house with one of his mentors, a former European long-board surfing champion who goes by the name of Guts Griffiths.

The month started out idyllically enough. "On the first day I met everyone and did some surfing on the second, it was glorious sunshine and I thought it was just perfect. But then it started raining and it did not stop for the rest of the month," says Matheson.

This was to prove a real problem for Matheson, who desperately needed as much practice as possible.

"In the first two weeks the conditions were so bad I only spent about eight hours in the water, whereas in the final two weeks I managed to get in three or four hours a day," he says.

The constant rain hampered Matheson's progress and caused everyone involved to get quite stressed. However, the time that could not be spent on the water was spent learning about the surfing culture.

"I had the standard stereotype of the surfer, the Australian with blond flowing locks," explains Matheson. "I found this not to be the case at all, they were just really relaxed people who are prepared to let everything wait."

In comparison to the local surfing community, he found working with the camera crew far more intense. "The cameras were there every day, sometimes they would let us just get on with it but at other times they had an agenda, and they could also be around in the evening," he says.

There were also difficult moments with the mentors, who were under pressure to get Matheson up to scratch.

"One time I was injured and the mentors were saying I was fine and should just get on with it - we ended up having this whole set-to in the back of the van. Luckily the camera crew lost the film of this," he says.

In Matheson's preliminary test he was up against four other surfers and had to impress the judges with 30 minutes of surfing. It was not to be and he struggled into fifth place, lagging behind a 12-year-old contestant.

But this was only a test and hopes were pinned on the final challenge. Again Matheson had to surf for 30 minutes and try to catch 15 waves. Competitors ranged from a man with nine months' experience who had been surfing every day, to someone who had been on the scene for 20 years. It was definitely not going to be Matheson's moment of glory.

"The conditions were far from ideal and with the surf I didn't do very well," he says.

All three judges picked Matheson out as the faker, but the experience has not killed his passion for surfing.

"Three days after the challenge I tried again and I was fine," he says. Since the challenge was completed in June Matheson has been surfing a number of times.

Apart from developing a passion for the sport, the whole experience has allowed Matheson to re-evaluate other aspects of his life. "I write electronic dance-based music, and the whole experience has given me the confidence to push this more, music is my main passion," he explains.

"It was weird coming back, the whole experience made me realise there was this whole other life I could lead, although I don't think a surf life would be fulfilling enough. I think I will leave it in the hands of fate and see what happens."

So, for the time being at least, Matheson is happy to be a Web developer.

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