Surfing with Jesus and Dead Fish

First published in Hot Sand/An Anthology, Penguin Books, 1997.

Also published in JAAM (New Zealand), 1997.

Surfing with Jesus and Dead Fish performed as monologue for Writers in the Raw, by Melbourne Theatre Company, Malt House Theatre, 1998.

When I was 15 years old I wanted to be my brother.

He was a life saver at Portsea and had recently discovered two mangled bodies on the rocks at London Bridge.  They were pancakes.  They had been hang-gliding in a terrible storm.  He was in shock, could hardly talk, but he had a big laugh about it later on, with the boys in his boat crew.  I went down there after the ambulances had gone but the waves had washed damn near everything away. 

My brother wrote GARRET FOR GOD in zink cream on his back and swaggered down the beach with his whistle.  My brother idolised Peter Garret.  We both wished that we were old enough to vote for him so that he could become prime minister and save the oceans.       

I was in the little nippers for a while and I learnt mouth to mouth resuscitation.  They had all this emphasis on team spirit in the surfclub.  I just didn’t like teamsports and lifesaving was one of them.  I didn’t like football either.  I was a bit shy about my deafness, never wore my hearing aid because I thought it made me look stupid.

I thought too much.  I’d walk a little way down the beach by myself and go surfing.  Fill myself with my own thoughts.  I just used to hang out behind the break and float.  I thought that somewhere there was somebody just like me, thinking this same thought, that somewhere there was somebody just like them.  And all we had to do was just meet each other. 

One day I found a sick penguin and took it home.  It died during the night and I bought it back to life using mouth to beak resuscitation and CPR with one finger.  I kept it alive for another day, I tried and tried, but in the end I had to go down and throw it into the ocean.

My brother rowed in the surf boat marathons.  They pulled their spedoes up their arses so that they slid on the seats better.  In the winter they would train on the Yarra.  One time my brother was rowing and his oar got snagged on this dead body.  It rolled over and looked straight through my brother.  Everybody was screaming and laughing and hooting around the boat.  They tied a rope to its foot and towed it back to the jetty.

The police had said it was some sort of organised crime killing.  My brother came home laughing about it with all this macho bravado, but that was the third dead body my brother had found that year.

There is a ritual at the surf club, my brother told me about it.  All the boys get together and stretch their dicks on a table.  The longest dick is the winner.  It doesn’t matter how big your dick is, it’s really a matter of how far you can stretch it. There are all these knife marks on the table from past competitions.

There’s this one guy with a tiny little thing and he stretches it out like blue tack and ties it in a knot.  It wasn’t a clove hitch or anything, just a very loose and incredible granny knot.  

If you cracked a fat you were disqualified.  No pooftas here mate.


I’ve read Jaws and it scared the shit out of me.  I haven’t even seen the movie.  I always feel safer surfing with fat people.  A couple of times I’ve seen sharks.  You see a fin pop up behind you and the next time you look it’s way in front. Once it was a dolphin.  There’s no way you can outpaddle a shark, it’s like winning Tattslotto, they just choose you and eat you.

I used to go and watch this beardy-weirdy in the surf shop making surfboards.  I watched him surf.  Sometimes he would just clown around on this old wooden malibu, and hang-ten and do headstands.  I thought he could damn near walk on water.

I hung around so much that he gave me a job.  His name was Gerald.  He got me painting surfboards.  The surfboards that Gerald makes all have these little fish painted on them.  It is the shop logo.  He picks one up and shows me the shape of it.  He points to the fish and then to the whole board and then to the fish again.  -See. he says, -this surfboard is basically the same shape as this fish.

I am busy painting this surfboard and Gerald starts telling me all about the Christian Board Riders Association.  He invites me to one of their meetings, at this place in Frankston. 

He slides a few of these Born Again Christian comics my way.

I started reading one in the back of Geralds surf board shop.  It was easy to read.  It was called The Assignment.  God and the devil both have these big TV screens.  Everything everybody ever does is recorded and played back to them when they die.  There are angels and devils that battle for their soul.  Those that refuse to accept Jesus Christ as their saviour are flung into the boiling pits of hell.  There is only one fire escape.   All you need to do is accept Jesus Christ as your personal saviour.

We were in the local milkbar and Gerald wanted to know why the tomato sauce was so expensive.  He asked a shop assistant.  He said it was plain highway robbery.

-Jesus mate, I don’t make the prices.  I only work here.

As soon as Gerald heard ‘Jesus’ this timebomb started ticking in his head.  His temples throbbed with tiny vulcanoes.

-Actually, Jesus is a very good friend of mine.  We are very good mates and I don’t think he had anything to do with the price of your tomato sauce. I usually don’t like to hear His name used in vain, but since you brought it up I’d like to tell you all about Him…

I started hanging around with Gerald more and more.  The one thing that struck me about him was the way he just seemed to have all the answers.  He believed all this stuff about Jesus and it made him stronger.  It made him happy.  He had a lot of confidence within himself with the knowledge that Jesus was looking after him personally.   

He took me to this church in Frankston.  A redecorated scout hall with a jazz band and a big public address system.  Everybody was dancing and clapping hands and hollering gobbledy-gook.  Gerald explained that they were talking in tongues.  They spontaneously speak a language that they have never learnt.

Gerald encourages me to talk in tongues.  I’m not too sure about it but by this stage Gerald is jumping up and down and saying yibbidee-yibbidah and snooki-misingoogany.  I’m a bit embarrassed.  I can’t understand a word he is saying to me.   

Everybody is running around shouting Jesus this and Jesus that.  There’s this guy up the front that is healing sick people by touching their foreheads and pushing them backwards.  God has given him special healing powers to cure the sick in the name of Jesus. 

-I command these demons to leave in the power of Jesus Christ.  Halleluiah, praise God.

You have to trust in Jesus and close your eyes and fall backwards.  The power of Jesus would often break your fall. 

Gerald baptised me in the ocean.  We waded out to our waists at the Portsea front beach and Gerald yelled in my ear.

-I baptise you in the power of Jesus Christ. 

He held my head under the water for a while.  It was incredible. I felt all brand new and cleansed of sin.  We went and sat in this cave under the cliff and made a small fire and Gerald talked about Jesus and what He could do for me. 

Everything just seemed so perfect.  When I wasn’t surfing I was painting surfboards.  And when I was surfing with Gerald I was surfing with Jesus.  I was doing exactly what I wanted to do.  I must have been the happiest I have ever been.

There was a competition at the surf club to see who could save the most lives.  Portsea is a dangerous beach and there are always opportunities.  My brother saved seven lives in one day.  He was in front of the life saving club, with his boat crew.  They were all standing around congratulating him. 

I went up to my brother and told him that the lives he saved meant nothing if they didn’t believe in Jesus.  That his life didn’t mean anything.  

My brother thought I was joking at first, but then he got embarrassed and angry.  I got angry too, I told him all about what Jesus would do to him on Judgement Day.

All I did was tell him the truth about Jesus.  Jesus, I was trying to save his life.  Jesus, when I think about it now I am so ashamed.  I went and slid these militant Christian comics under the door of a Buddhist temple.  I gave them one that told the story of Jesus in pictures.  I thought that they wouldn’t speak English being heathens and everything.

I went home and told my parents they were devil worshipers because they didn’t believe in Jesus.

I suppose I told a lot of people about Jesus.  These two Mormans came around to the house one day and I started telling them all about Jesus.  About why I was right and they were wrong.  I had them bailed up at the door for half an hour, eventually one of them said,

-This is an interesting discussion.  I think we’ll come back and talk to you about Jesus another day.

Demons were responsible for most diseases.  Jesus was the cure.  Gerald and I both believed this outrightly and absolutely.  It had been proved to me time and time again.  I saw one guy shake off his crutches, I saw another guy rise from his wheelchair.  I wanted to get rid of the demons that caused my deafness.  I went up to the faith healer three times, but I didn’t feel anything.  I thought that I must be doing something wrong, I wondered if my faith was strong enough.

I got into the dancing and speaking languages I never learnt.  I met heaps of girls that were also into Jesus.  One of them wanted to tongue pash me.  I was a bit confused about what constituted a sin.  Gerald had told me that sex before marriage was up there with murder.  It was like murdering yourself in front of Jesus.  

I remember brushing up against this girls breast with my arm and feeling incredibly guilty and worried.  Just as well it was an accident because I knew God was watching.  I knew that God knew that I was wanking a lot.  God knew everything about me, he had it all catalogued on video tapes.

I knew that everybody involved in that penis stretching competition would most certainly burn in hell for all eternity.  And I thanked God that I left the life saving club. 

My faith was probably strong enough but I knew I was doing something wrong.  I felt really sinful about tossing off and I didn’t think many people did it.  My wanking was somehow responsible for my deafness but I didn’t think I could really talk to anyone about it.

One day I found these porno magazines hidden down the back of the surf shop and I wondered if Gerald tossed off.  I thought that Gerald was too spiritually pure to do anything so unchristian.  I never thought about whether Jesus might have tossed off, I would never have allowed myself to think anything like that.

I just couldn’t get around the idea that Gerald was somehow a bigger wanker than I was.  That he secretly tossed off and then spouted all this stuff about Jesus.

I found a dead whale on the beach.  It was only a little one but it was as big as a surf boat, half buried in the sand.  It seemed a bit too far gone for mouth to mouth resuscitation.  I don’t know what killed it but it smelled really bad.

I walked down the dunes on the back beach and saw Gerald and the faith healer from church rolling around together.  I was damn sure they weren’t married and they were murdering themselves in plain view of Jesus. 

It was all just suddenly clear to me.  Gerald wasn’t just a wanker: he was a fraud and a hypocrite.  I’d been damn nearly beaten up by that faith healer in the name of Jesus and my hearing had not got any better. 

I went down to the surfboard shop and drew dead fish all over his surfboards.  Let down the tyres on his panelvan. 

My brother forgave me for calling him a devil worshipper.  I told him what a wanker Gerald had turned out to be.  How he might even be a poofta.  My brother told his boat crew about Gerald.  They waited for him outside the surfshop one night and bashed him up.  Ripped all his clothes off and rubbed boot polish on his balls. Wrote POOFTA in black texta on his face and gaffa-taped him to the only traffic light on the peninsula.

I stopped talking about Jesus.  I started hanging out with my brother again, he convinced me to spend all my money on Midnight Oil records.  We shaved our heads bald for the Midnight Oil concert at the Rosebud drive-in.  My brother got up on stage and danced like a spastic with Peter Garret.  I took photos and had them blown up and put them on my walls.  One day my friends got together and told me to stop dancing like Peter Garret.  It was embarrassing them.

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