Freelance Writer/Surfer

The Inertia

Portrait of the artist: Phil Roberts as he works on the Pipeline Masters commemorative board.

Portrait of the artist: Phil Roberts as he works on the Pipeline Masters commemorative board.

While Phil Roberts, the artist responsible for designing the Pipeline Masters trophy since 2008, seems to have carved out a niche for himself within the saturated space of surf art, Roberts seeks inspiration beyond the world of surf. Heavily influenced by European art, Roberts explores a variety of mediums from acrylics to airbrushes to bronze sculpture and architecture. Roberts considers himself to be a renaissance artist, and his wide variety of patrons (from Billabong to Hollywood to San Diego’s Natural History Museum) reflects his tastes.

“I basically wanted to be a combination of Michelangelo and surfing with a little bit of Walt Disney,” said Roberts.

Originally from Melbourne, Florida, Roberts began free-hand drawing when he was five years old. Over time, he developed not only a love for surfing, but also his talent for art, which began to blossom when he started airbrushing surfboards at the age of fifteen.

“As soon as I got out of high school for the day, I’d head over to the surfboard factories and paint between four and six boards in the afternoon,” said Roberts. His fascination with airbrushing surfboards, drawing caricatures, and creating paintings for local magazines led him to professional surfing’s center stage: the Pipeline Masters.


Each year, the Pipe Masters champion earns not only the prestige of the most-anticipated contest of the year, but also a couple of carefully handcrafted pieces of art. For the past three years, Roberts has been the man behind the bronze Pipe trophy. He has also collaborated with surf legend, Gerry Lopez, and photographer, Jeff Divine, to create a special 7’2’’ gun designed especially for Pipeline.

“I’m pretty happy with how it turned out,” said Roberts. “I free-hand airbrushed on the foam from Jeff’s [Divine] photo, but I had to repaint the details back into the painting to give it a more 3-D effect.”

Roberts also placed a very thin gold leaf into a red resin on the back of the board to add a little kick to this year’s piece, a very tedious task.


“This stuff is wafer thin and all the windows [in our studio] are closed,” said Roberts. “So there’s no wind and you can’t breathe because once you lay it down, it’s stuck.”

The pipe board is not the only thing Roberts has infused with gold. His most recent project, a piece know as “Balboa Park Carousel” has been eighteen years in the making and is currently featured in San Diego’s Natural History Museum.

“I actually painted the details and did the molds for the 22-karat gold for the carousel,” said Roberts. “I painted between 82 and 120 animals through a magnifying glass with nothing but a toothpick to erase.”

The “Balboa Park Carousel” egg depicts the carousel’s surface details in 22-karat gold, platinum, and diamonds. Many other gems were also applied to this intricate creation, which is encased in red gioche enamel that gives the egg its color. It sits atop of a 120 year-old restored music box, which plays 20 Victorian and Edwardian tunes.

“Phil is the most fundamentally authentic artist I’ve ever worked with,” said jewelry designer Jim Grahl who collaborated with Roberts on the carousel. “He has a blessing to be a remarkable human being and a remarkable artist, and those two don’t always go together.”

For his future surf creations, Roberts hopes to combine the intricate design concepts of these eggs and his passion for surfing.


“I often think what if Carl Faberge was a surfer,” said Roberts. “I want to take everything I know about jewelry and apply it to a surfboard.”

If his ambitions stay true, Roberts might just create the most valuable surfboard we’ve ever seen. – Jackie Connor

If you’d like to view more of Phil Roberts’ work or purchase a piece of art, you can do so by visiting his web site.


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