CAIRNS, Australia -- What started as a little fun between surfing mates has grown into a shark tale of mythological proportions.
Surfers around the world, via the internet, have been left spellbound by this picture of a great white apparently stalking an unsuspecting board-rider off Australia's NSW Mid North Coast.
It appeared as "shot of the day" on the popular Coastalwatch website on Friday, sparking discussion forums on other sites and a tsunami of emails.
Forum contributors to realsurf.com - many of them quivering in their wetsuits - estimated the shark was more than five metres long. General manager of Coastalwatch, Mark Morgan, said the picture was sent in by a website visitor who said it was taken at Booti Booti, south of Forster, a couple of weeks ago.
"We have blown this up and are pretty sure it is legitimate," Mr Morgan said.
While some writers wondered if the beast was genuine, one awestruck writer called Stokie said the surfer pictured has "definitely got a story to tell!"
Professional photographer Shane Chalker, a keen surfer, told The Sun-Herald yesterday that he spotted the board-rider and shark - five minutes and 500 metres apart - while a passenger in a microlight flying along Elim Beach, near Booti Booti.
He took shots of both, then, as a lark, combined the images on his computer, making the shark look triple its size, before giving a print to a friend.
That friend emailed the image to another mate who passed it on to another. Before they knew it, the shot raced around the globe. Mr Chalker, of Tuncurry, admitted it probably "scared the pants off 1000 tourists".
"I designed it to entertain a friend for a laugh and I never expected it would go further," he said.
The surfer in the shot is Norm Walford, 50, of Forster.
He wouldn't have been disappointed if the close camera encounter kept visitors away.
"We're quite protective of our beaches around here," Mr Walford said yesterday. "But sharks don't bother me ... I'm more scared of cars driven by little old ladies."
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