So, you want to buy a mid-length? It’s OK, there’s no shame in that. You’ve seen the clips of the RVCA crew gliding into tropical tubes on 7-foot single-fins, and you’ve thought to yourself: “That could be me.” You know something? Indeed it could. And lucky you, there’s never been a better time to be open minded about surf equipment. But when you’ve ridden thrusters your whole life, adding alternative shapes into the mix can be confusing. With California’s summer and its softer waves on the horizon, I checked in with Alex Knost about what to look for if you want to spice up your quiver with the Swiss Army Knife of alternative shapes: the mid-length.
What does a surfer who rides a thruster 90 percent of the time need to look for when adding a mid-length to their collection?
The modern shortboard usually has deep concaves, and they’re not really trim-oriented surfboards. You’re using the fins a lot, and also the rocker, to generate speed; you’re not really trimming or gaining momentum out of bottom turns the same way you would on a flat-bottomed single-fin board or something. There are so many different schools of thought. Generally, if you’re coming from riding a thruster it’s going to be a difficult transition to go to a black-diamond type single fin, like a Greg Liddle hull or a board like that. You’d feel like you’re not even surfing, it’d feel like you’re doing something completely different on a wave. That’s cool if it’s what you’re looking for, but if you’re looking for something safe and easy, I’d think of it like buying an entry-level sports car. You’re just looking for something with similar attributes to what you’re used to. You’d want a similar rail to your shortboard, a soft, C-type down rail. And a single fin. Those boards can be kinda campy, but they’re pretty easy to ride.
I’d also just look at what the people whose surfing you identify with are riding. For example, Ellis Ericson or Tyler Warren both can ride shortboards. Ellis is a very fundamental surfer, you watch him and it’s top-to-bottom, staying in the pocket, doing cutbacks, no matter what kind board he’s on. A lot of his single fins have attributes that are basic design fundamentals. You don’t have to be at a place like Rincon or Malibu to surf them properly.
Is there a magic length?
If you have a hard rail you can go shorter, but then you’ll be generating speed the same way you would on a shortboard, by pumping. If you have soft rails, like really doughy rails, with no bite, and a single fin, you’re pretty much relying on the juice of the wave, so length will help with the glide.“It all really depends on why you’re getting a mid-length. Are you just feeling old? Do you want to paddle faster? Are you wanting to try new lines? Bored with a thruster? It can go wherever you want to take it.”
What about a mid-length for good waves?
’70s Hawaiian-type shapes got narrower and the wide-point moved forward so that Gerry Lopez and Rory Russell and guys like that could ride hollow, powerful surf. That’s why the down rail was invented. Really, just pay attention to the history of surfing [laughs]. So if you’re going to be in hollow, critical surf, you’d want hard down-rails, with the board’s wide-point forward so you can still get in the waves. You’d want some tail rocker so you’re not getting stuck at the top and going over the falls.
It all really depends on why you’re getting a mid-length. Are you just feeling old? Do you want to paddle faster? Are you wanting to try new lines? Bored with a thruster? It can go wherever you want to take it. You want to learn something completely new, hop on a Greg Liddle hull. And you’ll never be as humbled. You could put some of the Top 34 on a Liddle and have them paddle out at a beachbreak and watch them pearl for 45 minutes straight. But then again, you could put any of them on a bonzer, which will make them draw longer lines and find new places. I think the Campbell Brothers bonzers, especially in critical surf, are definitely not like a retro thing at all. They’re really high-fidelity.
What sorts of mid-length boards should the open-minded board shopper avoid?
I would avoid gimmicks. I think there’s a very big trend in alternative surf…or whatever you’d like to call it…of a lot of people making boards that are pieces of shit with trendy logos and color jobs on them. I’d pay attention to the people that have been making these sorts of boards for a good amount of years. And the people who ride boards like that. Get something from somebody who’s been around for a while, and you’ll probably have better results. I definitely recommend the Campbell Brothers, for sure.
Tips for learning the new ride?
Just pay more attention to the wave. On modern shortboards you’re almost riding the board more so than the wave. Modern shortboards are made to work in all kinds of different surf. You can deal with shitty situations really easily. But on a bigger board, you should just let the board work, let it do its thing. Just chill the fuck out.