updated 9/30/2004 1:21:38 PM ET 2004-09-30T17:21:38

A surfer says the swell he was riding on turned out to be more than just a wave — it was a whale.

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Spyros Vamvas, a 60-year-old San Clemente therapist, felt the ocean swirl under him and was lifted up by the giant mammal.

“All of a sudden I just felt, wow, this huge noise and bump,” said Vamvas, “and it lifted my board up. I’m looking down, and there’s just swirling water and I see barnacles on the back of the whale. I’m used to dolphins. This was different. It was huge.”

Witnesses at Lasuen Beach on Monday morning began yelling.

“We were all screaming, ‘Oh my God!”’ said Mona Ferner, who was playing volleyball with her sister when she spotted the whale.

Vamvas had no idea how big the whale was. Others on the beach guessed between 15 feet to 30 feet long, meaning the whale was likely a juvenile.

Vamvas, who has been surfing since he was 12, said the whale lifted him gently. “I never changed position on my board,” he said.

Those who saw the incident said that after setting Vamvas back onto the water, the whale turned and headed out toward the open sea.

“It looked like the whale was obviously spooked,” said Marine Safety Capt. Bill Humphreys, one of several lifeguards on the beach.

The sight of the whale scared a number of surfers out of the water, Humphreys said. Vamvas was the only one left in the surf line as the whale approached. Witnesses said he was looking out to sea in search of a wave and didn’t appear to see the animal heading his way.

Vamvas said that his 6-foot, 10-inch surfboard wasn’t damaged, though he did pinch the middle finger of his left hand between the whale and his surfboard.

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