The kayakers were out on the water to see whales. They did not expect to swim with them. But that's what happened near California's Avila beach on Monday when a humpback whale breached the water's surface—immediately below Liz Cottriel and Julie McSorley. The friends from San Luis Obispo had been watching whales chase schools of fish from about 30 feet away in a tandem kayak. Then "I saw the whale come up. I thought, 'Oh no! It's too close,'" McSorley tells KMPH. "All of a sudden, I lifted up, and I was in the water." Cottriel, who is fearful of the ocean and needed convincing to head out, says the whale was "in my face, literally." She recalls thinking, "'I'm gonna push. Like, I'm gonna push a whale out of the way!' It was the weirdest thought."
The encounter caused their boat to capsize, though both women surfaced quickly and were assisted by others in the area. "They thought the whale had the kayak in its mouth," says McSorley. In footage recorded by one onlooker, which has since gone viral, it almost appears that the kayak has been swallowed, per CNN. McSorley was also taking a video at the time, and her footage captures a brief scream before she's submerged in the water, where a whale is eventually seen, per KSBY. The pair got back on the kayak and paddled to shore. Cottriel then found a fishy surprise. "We got back to the car, I was shaking my shirt and a bunch of fish came out," she tells KMPH. McSorley ended up losing her car keys in the ordeal, but "I still have an adrenaline rush!" (More whales stories.)