You've probably noticed that boards in the line up sure are diversifying. In fact, there's been a particular and stark rise in the humble mid-length. And though they may have fallen victim to some bad-mouthery and judgement in the past, that perception seems to be changing as more and more surfers of all abilities and backgrounds are waking up to the versatility of these more refined modern shapes.
Around 6’6 to 8’0 in size, with sharper rails than a minimal and typically a 2+1, twin or single-fin set up, mid-lengths claim to offer the best of both worlds between a longboard and shortboard, making for one easy-paddling, wave-catching ride. And with more people in the water now than ever before – some 2,000,000 new surfers since the start of the pandemic, the mid-length is becoming a staple in lineups across the world.
They’re touted as suitable for all sorts of conditions. But does that really hold true? Does the mythos live up to the reality? To talk through the various nuances of a bit more 'fun' foam under foot, we caught up with mid-length enthusiasts, Devon Howard and Leah Dawson, who chatted about why they choose to ride mid-lengths, what are their go-to boards, and, crucially, how they perform. Plus, we had a chat with Britt Merrick and UK-based shaper Andy Gale to shed some more light on the modern mid-length.
Southern Californian stylist and mid-length aficionado.
When did you first pick up a mid-length?
I grew up mostly riding longboards and pursued it competitively for quite a number of years. Then in the late ’90s I was introduced to the egg design by shaper Donald Takayama. That tri-fin egg he made me completely blew my mind. It immediately felt super comfortable and familiar, like I’d been riding one for years. I think it was because of its low rocker entry and the years of experience I already had pushing a long rail through turns.
What boards are you riding right now?
The past two decades I’ve lived by these general rules: when the waves are chest high and below I’ll usually grab a longboard.
If I am feeling in the shorter board mood, I will go with a fish or a shortboard design that is wide and skatey. Once it gets to chest high, and up to double overhead, I’ll pull out an egg style shape - and I’m reaching for my CI Mid pretty much exclusively at the moment.
Although my Mid works in smaller waves, chest high to double overhead that is what works best for me. My favorite size is 7’0 x 21 1/8” x 2 3/4” and I generally go with the two plus one set up we designed, with a 6.5” centre fin and 4.0” sidebites. I’ve been working on an all-new single fin mid-length egg type design that is showing some really promising results too. That will come out sometime early next year.
Excited to see that! For those who don't know, or think there's this stigma attached to those longer shapes, how would you describe the experience of surfing a mid-length?
I compare it to snowboarding, like bombing down a big powder run and doing large, drawn out carves at full speed. It’s such a bitchin' feeling when you are tucked low into the board and leaned over on rail going as fast as possible, holding that line for as long as you can before rolling it over on to the other rail and setting yourself up to do it again and again until the ride ends.
In between those up and down moments, dropping and climbing, you can choose to ease things up for a bit by running it out full speed, going straight and high on the wave face.
Regardless of how you ride a mid-length style board, they all generally provide an incredible feeling of freedom to roam wherever you want on the wave face. Ripping is a relative term, and you can certainly rip on these kinds of boards, but it’s a more calming, beautiful type of ripping [laughs].
Hawaii-based mid-length performance guru.
Why do you choose to surf mid-lengths?
One of the great beauties of surfing is that you can ride any kind of board and it will offer you a new experience. Egg shaped boards are great because they span many types of waves and conditions. I like to ride them mainly in smaller surf when there’s not a lot of push, but when it’s not ideal for longboarding.
Depending on the size, some of these shapes can become like a dance floor, which I love - there’s enough space to really move the feet around but also good access to the tail to turn powerfully. They can be great for fun stretch 5s too, which is one of my favourite ways to enjoy a pocket ride.
Ridden well, these shapes offer great glide, speed, and a whole new approach to riding waves.
What are you riding at the moment, and which conditions work best?
I've been loving this 7’4 Terrapin model that Alex Lopez has been developing. I’ve ridden it in small gutless surf, to pumping surf. I like them most in glassy conditions rather than bumpy - I guess that’s true for most boards - but with more surface area the chop can be accentuated, so I definitely prefer them in cleaner waves.
And how do you think that riding mid-length shapes has influenced your surfing style?
A mid-length board has some elements of a longboard like longer rail lines, which I feel slows our surfing down a bit, and makes us draw out our lines more. I prefer to ride them as single fins, rather than a thruster or 2 + 1 setup for that reason too. Single fins require you to be gentle and thoughtful with the line you take— you can still put a lot of power into turns, but it’s a completely different approach to the pivot feel of a thruster.
I’ve been practicing moving my feet around, going switch, and backwards, and I feel these boards help give that a great range of play.
Needs little introduction but lead shaper at Channel Islands Surfboards, and son of the legendary Al Merrick.
How do you recommend that people choose the right mid-length for them?
There are no set rules for sizing your first mid-length. The answer really depends on a few factors. For starters, are you a shortboarder or longboarder?
Shortboarders won’t want to go too big and longboarders will probably want to avoid going too small. The jump in volume either way can often be too much and just lead to disappointment. You must also consider your experience level as a surfer. Are you a beginner, intermediate or experienced?
Less foam is preferred for more experienced surfers, more foam for those that aren’t. With such a wide range in designs with varying dimensions and templates (i.e. eggs, long fish, hulls, etc.), that sizing number can be hard to pin down.
That said, a good starting point for most surfers is to go about 12” over their height for most mid-length designs out there, and maybe 10” if you are more toward the more experienced side of things or want a bit more spice in your turns.
Anything less than 10” over your height might feel like it hits a point of diminishing returns, where you lose too much of the surface area that keeps you up higher on the water to get that fuller gliding vibe. If you feel strongly about going shorter than that I would suggest that you adjust the width and thickness accordingly to keep from losing too much surface area.
It’s good to be aware though that this shorter length may force you to pump more aggressively down the line like a shortboard because with less area you may have less of that easy trim down the line you were looking for in the first place. Most mid-lengths should give you an ease of glide and allow for long arcing turns made possible by a fuller plan shape and lower rocker.
Shaper and resin artist at Seduction Surfboards and Toy Factory in Newquay
Would you say that today’s mid-lengths are inspired by retro shapes?
Some people think that mid-lengths are ’70s boards coming around again - but they’re definitely their own new category. We’ve learned so much about surfing since then and these new shapes are made for performance and versatility, more like scaled up shortboards, which is one of the reasons they’re gaining popularity so quickly.
They’re so new that my popular boards like the Jen Pro Mini don’t even come out of a blank. I use a longboard blank to get the right rocker and thickness, then get the 7 foot shape out of it.
Do you surf mid-lengths yourself?
Yes, I’ve been loving my new shape, the 7 foot Mid Ting. I grew up shortboarding but I’m a few years into my thirties now and, you know what, it’s just not as fun anymore.
Mid-lengths work for me. Super responsive and has loads of glide, and I can ride it like a shortboard or choose to cruise.
Want to find a mid-length? Well, good luck -- our pals over at Surfdome say they're coming in and flying out. But keep this little doozy bookmarked and you should find what you want, soon enough (we hope)..