by Joellen Kubiak-Woodall
Bra Boys is not your typical surf film. You will not find Jeff Spicoli stereotypes seeking a cool buzz and some tasty waves or scantly clad beach bunnies looking for love. What you will find is a stunning documentary film that explores the surf culture of Australia’s Maroubra Beach, a surfside suburb of Sidney. The film centers on the lives of Abberton brothers Sunny, a filmmaker, Jai and Koby, professional surfers and the youngest of the brothers Dakota. The Abbertons are the founding members of the notorious surf gang the Bra Boys, as in Boys of Maroubra.
If gang violence, surfing and beachside slums seems a foreign concept to you, as it did to me, then this film offers an opportunity to broaden your cultural horizons. Things are different in Australia. It makes sense that in an environment such as this the savior of at-risk youth is professional surfing. The Abberton’s grandmother, Ma to those who knew her, opened her heart and her home to her beloved grandsons and hundreds of other troubled boys. Together they formed a surrogate family that saved many of Maroubra’s youth, who would otherwise be lost to drugs and other criminal activities. The film provides historical overview of the development of surf culture and the rise of localism, Australian style.
In December of 2005, race riots rocked Sidney’s beaches. Bra Boys helps explain the social and cultural dynamics involved and shows how the gang and their multi-cultural community helped broker a peace between the rival factions.
Directed by Sunny Abberton, one would expect a slightly skewed version of events and a gang-centric point of view. All film, if done well, manipulates the viewer toward the filmmaker POV. Bra Boys is a tribute to Sunny’s merits as a documentarian. I did not mind being persuaded to see the world his way. Russell Crowe narrates the film; however, most of the story is told in first-hand accounts by the gang members themselves.
The film also features some breathtaking footage of the world’s best surfers on some of the planet’s most dangerous waves. Featured are Koby Abberton, Kelly Slater, Laird Hamilton and many others. There is also alcohol fueled reckless behavior, don’t-try-this-at home type stunts, violence, vulgar language and a murder, all set to a great soundtrack by Jamie Holt. You don’t have to be a fan of surf movies or surfing to enjoy this film. I found it to be both moving and enlightening.