Surfboard shopping is never a simple task. With so many styles and sizes available, how are you supposed to narrow down the options for your next board purchase?
While we'd all love to buy every surfboard in the shop, our wallets (and storage space) limit most surfers to a fairly small selection. This makes versatility key when choosing the right board to add to your collection. This is even more critical for a "one-board quiver".
Modern mid-length surfboards have a lot going for them in this regard. My guide will show you why they're a great choice for almost any surfer.
What is a Mid-Length?
The overall definition of mid-length surfboards is they sit roughly between 7 and 8 feet long and occupy the middle ground between funboard shortboards and malibu longboards. The idea is to balance the paddle power and ability to generate speed like longer surfboards with a fun carving feel on the wave face.
Although mid-lengths come in different styles and fin set-ups, the focus is always on making a board that allows a high wave count and a quality ride in small waves but still provides great fun when the surf picks up.
Types of Mid-Lengths
Single-fin Mid-Length Designs
Single-fin surfboards, as the name suggests, rely on one fairly large fin in the center of the tail for stability. They're a more traditional surfboard design and riding one effectively in a mid-length relies on smooth transitions from rail to rail to carve.
These are often, although not always, made to a longboard-style template, with a full nose, long rail line, and drawn-in tail. A good example of this would be the Raven by Bing surfboards. Many single-fin mid-lengths use a hull bottom, where the bottom contours are convex like a low-profile boat hull. This helps with the rail to rail transition but compromises stability, so they aren't as suitable for beginners as a mid-length board with a concave base.
In addition to true single-fin setups, some also have extra fin plugs by the rails. These allow the addition of small fins called side-bites, which you could consider as two stabilizers to help smooth out the ride.
Twin, Thruster, and Quad Mid-Length Surfboards
More modern mid-length boards (e.g. the Channel Islands CI Mid) have a sharper nose and more of an elongated shortboard template.
These often come in a three-fin configuration called a thruster, although the box for the middle fin is generally larger, so a single-fin can still be fitted by surfers who feel strongly about having the traditional carving feel even in a relatively high-performance mid-length.
Although less common, there are also mid-length varieties with a wide square tail or even a cut-out swallow tail such as found on the Cosmic Twin by Joel Fitzgerald.
These are closer to a mini-Simmons or fish shape in performance, being looser and more prone to sliding through turns than a board with a narrower tail.
To make this effect more pronounced, these models are usually made with no center fin and either one (twin) or two (quad) fins on either side near the rails.
Who Rides Mid-Lengths?
The short answer is that pretty much anyone can ride a mid-length surfboard and have a good time. However, surfers will use them differently depending on their surfing styles, level of surfing ability, and the type of waves they ride.
Mid-Lengths As Beginner Surfboards
A mid-length is a very good starting point for most beginner surfers.
The wider models have the ideal volume to let learners catch waves like a longboard and get a high wave count early on.
However, a true longboard often has too much surface area to allow improving beginners to practice turns effectively.
This is especially the case for those who eventually want to make the transition to surfing a shortboard.
If you buy your first mid-length in a thruster setup especially, it should give you the versatility to experiment as your surfing improves and help you decide which direction you want to go next. Aim for a model with a lower rocker too, as this will give an extra boost to your paddle speed.
Mid-Lengths For Longboarders
The feeling of gliding down the line on a 9'6"-10' longboard, stepping forward and back to keep trim, is a wonderful part of surfing.
However, there are times when being a longboarder is a huge hassle and the extra length can definitely give diminishing returns in joy for traveling surfers especially.
Many airlines won't allow boards over a certain size, strapping your board to the roof of your car can cause legal issues if it overhangs too far, and even just dragging a full-sized longboard down the beach can be awkward, to say the least.
Most mid-length boards are shorter and lighter, making them more convenient, while still having the volume, speed, and stability needed to make the switch without drastically changing your riding style.
A mid-length model in a wide-nosed longboard-style template even allows you to nose ride, just as you would on your log.
Mid-Lengths For Performance Surfers
Too many surfers get hung up on only riding high-performance shortboards, especially in clean waves or bigger, double-overhead conditions.
It's true these boards are designed for speed, maneuverability, and progression but that doesn't mean they're the only way to have great fun when the surf is on.
Adding a modern mid-length surfboard to your quiver is a popular move for days with small waves when a shortboard with low volume won't work well.
However, you really should try using these boards when the surf is pumping too. Although you'll have to work harder to duck dive, there's a whole different surfing experience to be had as a reward.
The long rail and lower rocker of a mid-length surfboard let you ride with bags of speed, even without pumping.
If you combine that with a single fin (or Single-plus-side bites fin set) and hull bottom, you can experiment with completely new lines and turn your local break into a whole different playing field.
For inspiration just look to surfers like Devon Howard, who has become well-known for riding mid-length set-ups in all surf conditions and in ever more creative and progressive ways.
What Size Mid-Length Should I get?
This depends on your ability and surfing style since these affect the sort of surfing you are planning to do on your new mid-length. Since most mid-length surfboards come in a relatively small range of lengths, your decision should be based primarily on shape (as previously discussed) and volume.
Volume refers to the amount of foam in the surfboard and is measured in liters. Boards with higher volume paddle faster and catch waves more easily, whereas less volume allows you to surf the board more aggressively.
As a general rule of thumb, beginner surfers should be looking for around 0.25-0.3l per pound of body weight, so a 200lb novice would want a mid-length between 50 and 60 liters. Longboarders will probably want to go even higher for their mid-length, as high volume is essential for maintaining a longboard-style ride. For experienced surfers looking for a mid-length board they can surf in good waves, pretty much any mid-length is going to have more volume than your usual shortboard, so err on the side of getting the shape you want without worrying unduly about volume measurements.
Our Surfboard Size Chart can help you out even more!