‘I was pretty amazed:’ Massive manta ray photobombs surfer at Florida beach

Photographer accidentally snaps ‘one in a million’ shot

A manta ray photobombed a surfer at Satellite Beach on March 14, 2021. (Courtesy of Rusty Escandell)

SATELLITE BEACH, Fla. – By pure luck, a Satellite Beach man captured the incredible moment when a giant manta ray did a back flip behind a surfer who was riding a wave.

Rusty Escandell said he was at the beach Sunday with his son, near Patrick Space Force Base, and didn’t even realize what happened.

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“To be frank with you, I was actually focusing on the surfer. I was doing a burst, catching several frames, and it wasn’t until I got home and I was reviewing the pictures that I actually saw what was happening in the background,” Escandell said.

Since the local automotive business owner lives nearby, he spends a lot of time near the water and has seen rays before but he’s never snagged a shot quite like this one. He estimated this one was about 8 feet wide.

“I was pretty amazed. I was pretty thankful that I had an f/11 (aperture) so it was somewhat in focus in the background,” Escandell said.

He got back into photography about a year ago and that day, his Canon RP came in handy.

Escandell posted the photo to Facebook later that night and got dozens of likes, shares and comments on his own profile and then got hundreds more when the Satellite Beach page shared the snapshot.

“One in a million chances of catching this photo,” one woman wrote.

Others were just as astonished.

“Wow, I’ve seen whales, sharks and small fish jumping but first time I’ve heard about Manta Rays jumping...great photo,” another woman commented.

Several others also shared their experiences seeing manta rays doing acrobatics in that same area.

“Awesome shot. We were sitting at o club watching it jump repeatedly. He would jump 2-3 times, then an hour later, same thing. He didn’t wander very far,” another man from Satellite Beach wrote.

Escandell said the response has been positive overall and most everyone has been impressed, including his two marine biologist daughters.

“They’re pretty cool, calm and collected but they’re pretty excited. They’re very excited about it,” Escandell said.

He’s also glad to be raising awareness about the local wildlife and reminding residents that the ocean waters they enjoy are home to a vast variety of creatures. He also hopes it serves as a reminder to take advantage of all the beauty Florida has to offer.

“Get out, enjoy life and enjoy nature,” he said.

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