A curious surfer barely survived a close encounter with a whale off an Australian beach on Sunday.

The 38-year-old surfer was floating in the water near Sydney's Bondi Beach when a huge southern right whale swam up to him and other surfers.

I just remember this magnificent whale slowly coming to the right of me and coming for another look, and I just kind of felt like talking to it like a dog or an animal, he said.

Suddenly, the happy encounter took an alarming turn. The whale's giant tail knocked him out and swept him from his board.

He was found face-down in the water before being rescued by fellow surfers and lifeguards.

The surfer later described the whale as being the size of a mini bus.

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