Details are provided regarding the design, construction, and performance of a compact (≈0.6-m2 footprint), single-channel surface discharge system and its application to optically pumping the XeF(C→A) and iodine atomic lasers in the blue-green (≈480 nm) and near infrared (1.315 μm), respectively. The system has a gain (active) length of ≈50 cm, and triggering the discharge requires no high-voltage or high-current switches. Measurements of the velocity of the photodissociation bleaching wave and the small-signal gain of the XeF(C→A) system are described. At 488 nm, the gain coefficient γ was found to be ≈0.3% cm–1, a value comparable to those reported previously for systems dissipating considerably higher power per unit length. Single-pulse energies <50 mJ from the XeF(C→A) laser (≈485 nm) and <0.7 J on the 5p 2P1/2→5p 2P3/2 transition of atomic iodine at 1.315 μm have been obtained with nonoptimized resonator output couplings (5% and 10%, respectively). The rate of erosion of the dielectric surface has been measured to be ≈0.1 to 0.3 μm/shot for a glass ceramic dielectric, and the performance of two electrical configurations for the ballasting pins (feedthrough and V) is compared.