There's a couple of blokes around here who genuinely surf well on mini mals as their daily driver. Kiwi Gav surfs Down End point very well on one, even up to double overhead.
They are not particularly trendy and people tend to move on from them, which is why they are sidelined a bit IMO, but a thoughtfully designed one can be versatile and work well.
They used to be quite popular small wave boards here and in Oz in the early-mid nineties and some guys can still make a good fist of shaping a mini mal. Unfortunately, because of the main user demographic, there's a lot of crap out there as the 'discerning eye' is never really cast over them to scrutinise whether the bloody things work well, so any old crap gets bought and surfed!
In my mind, most 'general purpose' things over 7ft and below 9ft fall into the broad catchall of 'midlength', so Magic Carpets, mini logs, mini mals, late 60's influenced 'Vee Bottoms' and some Simmons and fish style boards are all midlengths of a sort. A gun, like Hoff's 8'1" in the For sale section obviously isn't, as it's for a specific purpose.
In recent years, the midlength 'fish' a la 7S etc seems to have superceded the mini mal, but when you really pare down the design elements, many of these are swallow-tailed mini mals anyway... occasionally with multi fin set ups, I guess. They are a milion miles away from a Frye-style Longfish or Larmo mega-twinzer (which would definitely not be any good for learners). You could also make the arguement that the 'Fatboy Thruster' is really a narrower-nosed mini mal, I think.
I have had a particular interest in a couple of mid length designs of late; the modernised 'Hot Gen' style board and the hybrid Bruce Fowler 'Stoker V Machine' boards that seem to have great small-wave capabilities (i'm talking waist high mush) without being logs or (my personal pet hate, Griffster!) the lightweight 'performance mal' (an oxymoron? Nothing against the guys who like 'em, but they just don't do it for me...)
The reason I have taken an interest in these boards is purely selfish - I wanted a board that my wife could use/carry/get in the car that would also get me in the sea in weak-ass micro mush where even my fish would start bogging.
I am formulating a cunning plan with a thouroughly knowledgeable chap as we speak, so will keep this thread updated with, er, updates.