The art of the Pipe Masters

Established in 1971, the Pipe Masters is one of the oldest and arguably the most prestigious professional surfing contest in the world. Pipeline is a powerful wave on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, capable of picture-perfect, large, heavy, and hollow barreling waves, making it one of the most dangerous and exciting waves in the world.

Painting of Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii by surf artist, Phil Roberts
‘Pipeline Afternoon’ by Phil Roberts

Held annually, in December, the Pipe Masters features the top 45 surfers in the world competing in the WSL (World Surf League), plus 16 local surfers who qualify to compete through a trial event. It’s the final event of the professional surfing season and also the final leg of the coveted Triple Crown of Surfing. All-in-all, it’s truly a special event.

Since 1996, artist Phil Roberts has sculptured the winner’s trophy — a bronze sculpture of surfer, Gerry Lopez (aka Mr. Pipeline).

The prestigious Pipeline Masters trophy sculptured by artist, Phil Roberts
The prestigious Pipe Masters trophy featuring Gerry Lopez. Photo by Kelly Cestari

Gerry Lopez was one of the first surfers to conquer Pipeline in the 1960s and 70s — at a time when people didn’t even consider it possible to surf, at least, not with the style and grace that Gerry Lopez did. In doing so, Gerry pioneered surfing in the barrel of the wave on a cutting-edge shorter surfboard than was ridden at the time. In doing so, Gerry helped change the face of surfing and opened up the possibilities of riding then ‘un-surfable’ waves all around the world.

Gerry Lopez at Pipeline, Hawaii in 1971. Photo by Jeff Divine
Gerry Lopez at Pipeline in 1971. Photo by Jeff Divine

In addition to the Pipe Masters trophy, the winner is also presented with a one-of-a-kind surfboard. The trophy surfboard is a 7’2″ Pipeliner Gun shaped by Gerry Lopez — a recreation of the classic board Gerry rode at Pipeline in the 1970s. And then artist, Phil Roberts paints, illustrates, and customises the surfboard to make it a true collectable and extremely valuable work of art. Each year also features guest partners, from the surf photograph Phil’s art is inspired by to the glassing of the surfboard.

Every year, Phil Roberts makes an amazing trophy. Gerry shapes it and Phil paints it up. And I mean, that thing is, in my assessment, the prized possession in surfing. And not just to win the contest, but to have that piece of art, you know, it’s really like a piece of surf history.

Kelly Slater, 11x world surfing champion

The following is a showcase of every surfboard Phil Roberts and Gerry Lopez have created, from 2019 going back to 2008.

2019 Pipe Masters

The 2019 trophy surfboard was inspired by a reference photo of Pipeline by Steve Wilkings. Italo Ferreira was the third Brazilian surfer to take home the surfboard, while also scooping his first world title in winning the Pipe Masters. Two incredible trophies for a special event and moment in surfing history.

2019 Pipe Masters trophy surfboard by Phil Roberts and Gerry Lopez
2019 Pipe Masters winner, Italo Ferreira with the Pipe Masters trophy sculpture by Phil Roberts
2019 Pipe Masters winner, Italo Ferreira

2018 Pipe Masters

The 2018 trophy surfboard was extra special due to it being lined with 100% agave paper harvested from Jose Cuervo’s agave fields in Jalisco, Mexico — a technique pioneered by shaper, Gary Linden. On the deck of the board, Phil Roberts recreated an iconic photo of Gerry Lopez by Lance Trout, making Pipeline look easy (it’s not!).

2018 Pipe Masters trophy surfboard featuring a painting of surfer, Gerry Lopez by Phil Roberts

Below is a short video about the making of the 2018 Pipe Masters surfboard, showing the effort and craftsman that goes into these boards:

Gerry Lopez with the 2018 Pipe Masters trophy surfboard featuring art by Phil Roberts
Gerry Lopez with the 2018 Pipe Masters surfboard
Gerry Lopez with the 2018 Pipe Masters trophy surfboard featuring art by Phil Roberts
Gerry Lopez showing off the 100% agave paper-lined surfboard
2018 Pipe Masters champion, Gabriel Medina with the 2018 Pipe Masters trophy surfboard by Phil Roberts
2018 Pipe Masters winner, Gabriel Medina. Photo by Kelee Bovelle

The runner-up of the Pipe Masters also gets a framed painting by Phil Roberts to match the art on the winner’s surfboard — surely making the Pipe Masters the best event in sport to come in second place?! Below is the runner-up art from 2018 and below from 2017.

2018 Pipe Masters art by Phil Roberts

2017 Pipe Masters

The 2017 trophy surfboard and runner-up art featured a signature under-over-water painting by Phil Roberts, showing the intricate network of reef caves hidden below the Pipeline wave, which contribute both to the size and hollowness of the wave, and how dangerous it is to surf!

2017 Pipe Masters winner, Jeremy Flores with John John Florence and the Pipe Masters trophies and art by Phil Roberts
2017 Pipe Masters winner, Jeremy Flores and runner-up John John Florence

“From my simple beginnings of airbrushing surfboards in Florida as a teenager, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be making boards with the legendary Gerry Lopez and creating the most coveted and valuable surfboard in the world. I’m stoked to be a part of surfing history.”

Phil Roberts

2016 Pipe Masters

The 2016 surfboard found a new home in Tahiti for the first time, with event winner, Michel Bourez. The photo below is another look at the fantastic winner’s trophy/sculpture, also created by Phil Roberts.

2016 Pipe Masters winner, Michel Bourez with the Pipe Masters trophy and surfboard by Phil Roberts
2016 Pipe Masters winner, Michel Bourez. Photo by Peter Joli Wilson

2015 Pipe Masters

Each year, Phil Roberts likes to experiment with different materials and techniques to make each surfboard unique. In 2015, the trophy surfboard featured airbrush and charcoal artwork.

2015 Pipe Masters winner, Adriano de Souza with the Pipe Masters trophy surfboard by Phil Roberts
2015 Pipe Masters winner, Adriano de Souza

2014 Pipe Masters

The 2014 surfboard was the first to focus on Pipeline, the wave, as opposed to a surfer. The reference photo used for Phil Robert’s stunning painting was by Kirstin Scholtz, a staff photographer for the World Surf League from 2008-2016. Fun fact: the faux verde marble painting on the bottom of the board was done by Kelly Slater‘s sister in law, April Slater. It took 4 days to paint multiple layers to create a real marble look. It’s a shame Kelly didn’t win the event!

Faux marble work on the bottom of the 2014 Pipe Masters trophy surfboards by April Slater
Faux marble by April Slater
2014 Pipe Masters winner, Julian Wilson with the Pipe Masters trophy surfboard by Phil Roberts
2014 Pipe Masters winner, Julian Wilson and runner-up, Gabriel Medina

2013 Pipe Masters

The 2013 Pipe Masters trophy surfboard was a tribute to the late Hawaiian surfer, Andy Irons — 3x world champion and 4x Pipe Master — who tragically died in 2010. The Pipe Master event artwork of 2011, 2012, and 2013 were all a tribute to Andy. The inspiration for 2013’s surfboard was a photo of Andy Irons at Pipeline by Pat Stacy.

2013 Pipe Masters winner, Kelly Slater with John John Florence and the Pipe Masters trophy surfboard
2013 Pipe Masters winner, Kelly Slater and runner-up John John Florence

2012 Pipe Masters

The 2012 surfboard was again made in memory of Andy Irons. The painting on the deck of the surfboard was inspired by a photo of Andy Irons at Pipeline by Brian Bielmann. In addition to the painting, Phil Roberts silver-leafed the bottom of the surfboard and gold-leafed the iconic lightning bolt (that adorns all of Gerry Lopez’s surfboards).

2012 Pipe Masters trophy surfboard by Phil Roberts

For the last two years, I’ve had the honor to portray Andy Irons on the board with the help of Brian Bielmann‘s photography. These boards are emotional pieces of art to do and I’m proud of how they came out.

Phil Roberts
Andy Iron's at Pipeline. Photo by Brian Bielmann
The original photo of Andy Iron’s at Pipeline by Brian Bielmann

The video below features photographer, Brian Bielmann talking about the moment he shared with Andy Irons after the above photo was captured, and Phil Roberts talking about the making of the surfboard:

2012 Pipe Masters winner, Joel Parkinson with the Pipe Masters trophy surfboard by Phil Roberts and Gerry Lopez
2012 Pipe Masters winner, Joel Parkinson

2011 Pipe Masters

The 2011 event was renamed the Billabong Pipe Masters in Memory of Andy Irons. This was the first year the trophy surfboard didn’t feature Gerry Lopez. Instead, Phil Roberts recreated an iconic photo of Andy Irons at Pipeline by Brian Bielmann, in honour of Andy who tragically died in 2010. The video below features Phil Roberts talking about the 2011 surfboard:

2011 Pipe Masters winner, Kieren Perrow with surfing legend, Gerry Lopez and the Pipe Masters trophy surfboard by Phil Roberts
2011 Pipe Masters winner, Kieren Perrow with Gerry Lopez

In memory of Andy Irons

Pictured below are the three surfboards in memory of Andy Irons from the 2011, 2012, and 2013 Pipe Masters:

Pipe Masters trophy surfboards in memory of Andy Irons
Pipe Masters trophy surfboards in memory of Andy Irons

2010 Pipe Masters

The 2010 Pipe Masters trophy surfboard was inspired by a Jeff Divine photo of Gerry Lopez. Phil freehand airbrushed an underpainting on the raw foam and then painted details in oils on the sanded hot coat deck. The bottom of the board was first glassed red for a base, then a layer of gold leaf was applied. Any natural cracks or flaws in the gold leaf revealed the red glass beneath, giving it a vintage look.

2010 Pipe Masters trophy surfboard by Phil Roberts
Gerry Lopez with the 2010 Pipe Masters trophy surfboard featuring art by Phil Roberts
Gerry Lopez with the 2010 Pipe Masters trophy surfboard
2010 Pipe Masters champion, Jeremy Flores with the trophy surfboard by Gerry Lopez and Phil Roberts
2010 Pipe Masters winner, Jeremy Flores

2009 Pipe Masters

The 2009 trophy surfboard featured a full-colour recreation of a Jeff Divine photo of Gerry Lopez. Phil Roberts airbrushed an under-painting onto the surfboard’s foam deck blank, then painted the details of Gerry’s portrait on the sanded hot-coat deck, creating a cool 3D effect.

Artist, Phil Roberts working on the 2009 Pipe Masters trophy surfboard
Phil Roberts working on the 2009 Pipe Masters trophy surfboard

“I sent Kelly Slater an email with a shot of the board and his reply was: ‘It is on!!

Phil Roberts
2009 Pipe Masters winner, Taj Burrow with runner-up Kelly Slater, Gerry Lopez, and the trophy surfboard by Phil Roberts
2009 Pipe Masters winner, Taj Burrow with runner-up Kelly Slater

2008 Pipe Masters

The first-ever Pipe Masters trophy surfboard, in 2018, featured a charcoal sketch rendition of an iconic photo of Gerry Lopez by surf photographer, Jeff Divine. Phil drew directly onto the foam blank, before the glass was applied (i.e. there was no room for error). The surfboard had an estimated value of $10k (USD) before the contest and $20k after Kelly Slater won the event.

Kelly Slater and Gerry Lopez with the 2008 Pipe Masters surfboard
2008 Pipe Masters winner, Kelly Slater and Gerry Lopez. Photo by Kirstin Scholtz

Let us know what years were your favourites! @clubofthewaves

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