It was just a regular dive, until it wasn’t.
On July 20, just more than two miles off the coast of Avila Beach, Shawn Stamback and Francis Antigua of San Luis Obispo were snorkeling during a diving break while two of their friends shot video. Suddenly, a frenzied swarm of sardines enveloped the divers.
“At that point, I knew something was up,” Stamback said.
Sure enough, a pair of gargantuan humpback whales roared to the surface, mouths agape, missing the divers by only a few feet.
“Holy shit!” Stamback yells in the video, as he and Antigua frantically paddle back to the boat.
Both divers were awestruck, but unharmed.
“It was a freak moment of nature,” Stamback told New Times. “It’s the closest I’ve ever been to a big animal like that—it’s like getting hit by lightning.”
Stamback posted the video on his YouTube page later that day, hoping the cetacean close encounter would drum up publicity for his fledgling Morro Bay scuba diving business, SLO Divers.
In the morning on July 22, Stamback said he received a phone call from an editor at Yahoo, asking for permission to use the video—which Stamback granted.
“He was very nonchalant, but then he told me he was going to put it on the front page,” Stamback recounted. “He just said: ‘The video’s going to go viral in about five minutes.’ And it did!”
By mid-afternoon on July 24, the video had been viewed almost 5 million times on YouTube. Stamback estimated he’s received close to 1,000 phone calls and done interviews for “all the media outlets,” including some as far-flung as Germany and New Zealand.
Though Stamback said he’s enjoying the surge of media attention and hopes the coverage will draw more divers to the overlooked Central Coast, he knows full well his proverbial “15 minutes” will be up very soon.
“I’m not making any money from this, and I’ve been providing all the video and photos for free,” he said. “I got to share this really cool thing with everyone, and that’s what matters. I just want to ride the wave and enjoy life—that’s all you can do.”