On March 10th, 2006, three years after Koby Abberton's brother, Jai, shot and killed a notorious local thug and dumped his body off the cliff at Maroubra, the final scene of a legal battle that gripped Australia was about to play out. Jai Abberton had already made Australian legal history by being acquitted of murder on the grounds of self-defense, but now it was Koby's turn. Koby, one of Australia's best surfing talents, had been found guilty of lying to police to cover up the shooting, and now Koby was standing in front of the judge waiting to hear his sentence, well aware the crime carried a 14-year maximum sentence. With the words "My Brother's Keeper" inked around his neck, he was set to find out the price of that motto.
"I'm going to sentence you to nine months in jail," the judge said gruffly. But after a pregnant 30-second pause, he delivered a sweet kicker: "But I am going to suspend the sentence."
Just like that, after two long years of legal handcuffs, Koby walked out of court a free man, and immediately celebrated in the front bar of the Maroubra Hotel with his brothers and a group of the Bra Boys (a photo of which made the front page of Australia's biggest newspapers). Finally, he could begin again. March 10th was the first day of the rest of his life, and his world immediately began to open up. While he could enjoy the private victories of being able to surf and travel wherever he wants, being out of the media spotlight doesn't seem to be in the cards. In the days after he was given his freedom Koby was spotted hanging out with actor Russell Crowe, and there's talk of movie deals, new sponsors…and of course a few surf trips, where he hopes to continue pushing the boundaries of what's deemed surfable. Today, as a free man again, what he's capable of doing is anyone's guess.
Today, Koby Abberton is sticking his head out the window of a dilapidated unit he now rents above the local laundromat in Maroubra. The entire place is scarred by salt air, but it affords him an uninterrupted view of his beloved Maroubra Beach. Abberton is a long way from his million-dollar crib of two years ago, but right now the big-wave soldier and Bra Boy figurehead couldn't care less. After three years of hell, today he's sporting a smile like a split watermelon. Today he is free. We caught up with Koby to let him tell his story, so here it is, in his own words.
Welcome to the Neighborhood
I've lived in Maroubra my whole life. I was born in a house just up the road in Astoria Circuit, up in Lexington Place, the housing commission capital of Sydney. I was actually born in the house. My mum was a heroin addict and she knew she'd get in trouble if she had me delivered up in the hospital. Growing up in Maroubra there were a lot more drugs, a lot more gangs, heaps of heroin in the area, and everyone was trying to control it. Heaps of shit going on with guns and knives and street battles.
I never had anything to do with heroin, but it was hard to keep out of all the shit when it's all around you, all around the beach. People pulling guns on people, shootings, and a lot of heroin addicts around the area…and it's pretty hard to keep away from it all when your mum's a heroin addict. I was pretty much in the thick of it then.
The only dad I ever knew was a bank robber who just did 12 years for bank robbery. He wasn't my dad, he was my mum's boyfriend. When I was a kid me and me best mate Jed used to hide under me mum's bed and he'd be under one side with a balaclava on, holding a shotgun, and I'd have two handguns with a balaclava on. Never looked to see if they were loaded. Just playing with them like toys. Little did we know they'd probably just been used in a bank robbery.
Into the Fire
One day when I was 12 I walked into the house to find mum and her boyfriend shooting up heroin with all their friends. When I told her boyfriend to get out, he hit me over the head with a baseball bat and kicked me out of the house. I was 12 years old then and I've never been home since.
I went straight down to my brother Sunny's and started crying. He just said, "Don't worry, just try to forget about it and put everything you've got into your surfing. That's our way out of this life." So I moved down to Sunny's and for the next year, year and a half, I stayed with my friends, living on their couches, and then eventually I got a house with my brother, which just happened to be next door to my grandmother's place. The funny thing is I can't remember much about growing up until I was, like, 12. I don't know if my mind blocks out my childhood…or if I've just got a bad memory. [Laughing]. But I do remember when I was 13, paddling out when it was massive with my brothers, surfing as hard as I could. It was when I started surfing that my life got better.
Taking Back Maroubra
When I was about 14 our crew started the Bra Boys, and basically started controlling the place. We said there's not going to be any heroin in Maroubra anymore, because we didn't want drugs in the place. After all that shit happened, we had a solid crew of about 20 or30 of us, then it gradually turned into 50, then 100, and now there's three or four hundred. We just wanted to stamp it out of the area. We'd hear of a house that was selling it and we'd go and kick the door in and go and sort it out. And we stopped it and the place became better straightaway. Today, by comparison, nobody is doing heroin in Maroubra. It's a different place, there's cafs, families…but y'know, it still lights up at night. The Bra Boys kept me out of a lot of trou- ble. I was a pretty bad kid, got kicked out of school at the start of Year 8 [8th Grade], and it was pretty well a free-for-all. I did what I wanted, but I had them there to pull me out. I had them to watch over me.
Around here, either you're going to be the best fighter, the best footballer, the best chickpuller, or the best surfer. It's just a massive race to be the best, and it's not just my brothers, or the Bra Boys; it's the whole area. If you're going to do something you go the hardest at it. It's all about being Number One. If you're not Number One and not going the hardest you shouldn't be living here.
You couldn't get a closer set of brothers than the three of us. I mean it shows with what I just went through in the courts. Sunny used to be away a lot on the tour, so Jai and I used to be at home together in trouble, always together. We're probably the closest. We fight a lot but we're the closest brothers you could ever find. Through all our troubles we were always the ones together. We'd have a fistfight one day and be best mates again the next, like it was nothing.
By My Side
Around here, mate, if you don't have someone looking out for you, you're pretty well going to go to jail. The fighting, the surfing, the partying-- it's such a fine line between having a good time and going to jail. To be going the hardest at it, you're sometimes going to end up on the wrong end of the law. With Marky [Matthews] I used to pay for his tickets to travel around the place for his surf trips. Now I got a new kid, Jesse Pollock, I'm paying his trips now. I've paid for him to go to Tazzy with me a couple of times, down to Victoria. He's got real potential. He was going hard at 10-foot Shipsterns the other day like it was nothing.
My Brother's Keeper
The night of the shooting I didn't think about the future or myself, I just thought about Jai. We haven't had good lives and we didn't deserve that. The guy was a rapist and the guy was a killer. I knew it would be tough from there, though, and I knew there were people who were out to get us. There were people in
the court case [testifying against Jai] who Jai never even knew, who were saying they were shooting up heroin with him and that he told them about the shooting. The first thing we did was get a blood test for Jai to see if he'd ever had heroin in his system and it came back completely clear. So there goes that witness, but where did he come from? Why would he say that? You can tell how hard they were coming after us.
Y'know the worst thing about court: missing out on surf. Mate, between Tazzy and Tahiti the last couple of years it's been killing me. You wanna know something? It can be a week before court and there's no swell anywhere, and I'd say to the boys, I'd go, "Boys, watch this," and the day of court the surf was on, every day. The court swell. Every day. I'd be sitting in court listening to some f—ing judge just waffling, watching his mouth move, and all I'm hearing him say is, "Tahiti, Tahiti, Tahiti." And I'm just going, "Get me out of this f—ing joint!"