On Friday, September 7, at the Spreckels Theatre in San Diego, much of the U.S. surf industry will get their first look at Bra Boys, the acclaimed Australian documentary film that set box office records in the Lucky Country this past spring. The gritty portrait of a tight-knit surfing community bound together to fend off the violence and turmoil plaguing their modest South Sydney neighborhood of Maroubra has clearly struck a chord among fans. So much so that Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe, who narrates the documentary, is now taking the project to the next level by putting his muscles behind the Hollywood version of the story for what will be his directorial debut. The Hollywood version is slated to start filming sometime next summer.
Of course, nobody’s more thrilled about the success of this film then its central characters, Koby and Sunny Abberton, who’ve become transplants to Los Angeles while their documentary tours the U.S. and the Hollywood scripts are worked on. Life couldn’t be more different for the both of them. It was just a few years ago when Koby, a well-known pro surfer, was facing up to 14 years in prison for his involvement in a lethal shooting case involving his brother Jai. Sunny, the eldest of the Abberton brothers, was already trying to set the record straight about just who the Bra Boys were when the shooting occurred. As the trial began, he decided to document their ordeal, holding back very few punches in the process. Today, little has changed in Maroubra. Rivalries between surfers and authorities still exist in a big way, but thanks to Bra Boys, both sides of the story are being discussed. We caught up with Sunny and Koby to find out how they’re handling the ride.
You guys seem to be going from one rollercoaster ride to another these days.
Koby: Yeah, and when you watch the movie you’ll see that’s exactly how it’s been going. There was so much going on in our lives that we had trouble figuring out when it should end. Finally we were like, “Let’s finish. This has to be finished.”
Sunny: The reason we started making the movie was the police clash that happened with us years ago, and people’s misperceptions of what the Bra Boys are all about. The local surfers were getting abused by the media afterward, so we wanted to let people know there was a complete other side to the story. Really, this is about our family, but more from the brotherhood side of it, the tribe, and how a lot of us in Maroubra struggled in a pretty depressed socio-economic zone with the issues we faced. When Koby and Jai were charged with the shooting, their whole ordeal became the best way to illustrate the problems most of us face. We still do. So I wanted to bring the audience into our world, so they could understand more about where we were coming from. Everyone in Australia had a negative impression of the Bra Boys, and it was based on stuff that’s not even remotely true.
Koby: Even before we were all over media being called murderers and rapists, they were calling the Bra Boys a white Anglo-Saxon gang of racists, which is laughable if you know anything about us. We’ve got more colored people in our crew than white, and we were the ones who put an end to the race riots there. But a lot of it relates to the fact that Maroubra is pretty localized. It can be ugly. Just like other areas where people stay together to survive.
Have the Australian authorities offered up any olive branches since the release of this film and its success down there?
Koby: Never. They never even tried to talk to us. Even in the movie you’ll see a letter where we asked the local government, the mayor and the police, and they said, “We will not talk to you people. We will not have anything to do with you.”
Sunny: There’s actually a station in Victoria where the police are trained for our state and they do a whole thing on Bra Boys, a whole training sequence. Our argument was, “How can you do that if you’ve never spoken to any peers in the community, you’ve never spoken to the local boardriders club, or the local senior members organization, or the local youth?” But that’s where the movie’s important because it traces back that whole history of that conflict.