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Champion paddleboarder enjoys whale of a close encounter

September 24, 2009 | 12:55 pm

Humpback1

Jamie Mitchell won't soon forget his encounter Tuesday with a humpback whale off New South Wales, Australia.

Mitchell, an eight-time World Paddleboarding champion and big-wave surfer, was aboard a standup paddleboard filming for his new television documentary project "Living in Liquid."

A pod of humpbacks approached and the whale in the photo above surfaced next to Mitchell, winner of the recent 32-mile Molokai-to-Oahu paddle race in Hawaii.

Humpbacks are among the most gregarious and curious cetacean species and often treat whale-watchers aboard boats to up-close encounters. About 13,000 humpbacks migrate each season along Australia's eastern seaboard. 

"They have amazing control in the water, so I relaxed and enjoyed the experience," said Mitchell, a Quiksilver-sponsored athlete. "I have an even greater respect for them now, they are so cool."

"Living in Liquid" will follow Mitchell's many waterborne challenges, from big-wave surfing to free-diving and paddleboarding. Presumably, the humpback footage will make the cut.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: Jamie Mitchell stands in awe before the a humpback whale that approached him as he was paddling off Australia. Credit: Liam O'Brien/Jason Muir

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