What a corker!

Photo: The Green Wave

For hundreds of years, cork has been used in the production of wine stoppers. But recently, cork has been used for many other purposes: flooring, kitchenware, insulation, footwear, and now surf tail pads! So what's all the fuss about?

It's quite simple really: cork is 100% natural and biodegradable. It is harvested from the outer bark of the cork oak tree Quercus suber in the Mediterranean region (Portugal mainly but also Spain, France, Italy and Northern Africa). After 9-12 years the bark re-grows, allowing the cork to be harvested again. The trees live for 200 years or so, which means the harvesting process can be repeated up to 20 times during the lifetime of each tree, making cork a renewable resource. The forests, called Montados, are highly prized and passed down through generations of families in the cork-producing business. 

But that's not all. There is very little processing involved from raw material to finished product. The cork is cured, boiled and pressed without any chemical input. Even the scraps are collected for reuse, which means there is very little waste. In other words, its ecological footprint is a lot lower than the industry average of plastic production.

Photo: Merlin & Rebecca

Photo: Merlin & Rebecca

So cork is definitely environmentally-friendly, but how and why is it good for surfing?

Firstly, cork is composed of tiny gas-filled cushion cells lined with flexible suberin. Millions of these cells together create a substance which is highly compressible yet resilient, we're fundamentally talking about elastic memory here. Elastic memory is important because it means that the tail pad returns to its original size and shape after it's been compressed and therefore provides the ideal consistency under your back foot.

The other great thing is that cork is water-repellent. This means that your tail pad remains lightweight all the time and keeps its grip no matter what. No more slipping, just more shredding!

Photo: The Green Wave

Wavetribe were the first ever surf company to use cork in their tail pads. After a few years of testing they came up with a Cork + EVA composite that combined the awesome and sustainable characteristics of cork with the bond and rigidity of EVA. The pads are long lasting, soft but grippy at the same time, they don't hurt your knees, and they're super lightweight, which means performance is nothing but enhanced. And the best part? Their natural cork colour looks great.

I've been using these pads for about 4 years now and I've never had a bad experience. They've always stuck to my boards and they've never chipped away, no matter what I put them through.

But there's another reason why you might want to start using cork pads.

Nora Berrahmouni, Mediterranean forest unit director at the environmental nonprofit World Wildlife Federation (WWF), says that cork forest ecosystems are endangered by increasing population growth and forest clearing. With the loss of viable Montados, “there could be intensification in forest fires, a loss of irreplaceable biodiversity and an accelerated desertification process”, she says.

“The cork forest loss is coming from the decline of the global cork market”, Berrahmouni says, explaining that conventional wine corks are being replaced by aluminum screw tops and petroleum-dependent plastic stoppers. The decreased demand for cork has devalued the forests, leading to sales — even abandonment — of the once-priceless land.

Cork products, on the other hand, will keep Montados intact and support a sustainable form of agri-forestry, Berrahmouni says. “We encourage consumers to buy cork materials”.


So here you have it, the whole story behind the use of cork in surfing.

Now go check these tailpads out.

Gordon Fontaine
Gordon Fontaine


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