Surf's up, dudes!

An Australian high school hopes to stop beach-loving students from bailing out of class by making surfing an approved subject, according to The Associated Press.

Byron Bay High School will offer surfing as part of a recreation course that from next year will count toward a high school certificate in New South Wales state.

"You've got students who are at risk of dropping out of school and the school has developed this course as a way to provide a pathway for these students into future employment and keep them connected to education," state Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt said.

But Federal Education Minister Brendan Nelson said surfing as a subject made a mockery of the education system.

"That we're now apparently offering it as a HSC [high school certificate] subject in New South Wales is an absolute disgrace," Nelson said.

Byron Bay has 16 surfing students this year but the state school board has only agreed to allow the subject to count toward a student's HSC from next year.

99 Cents for a Clipper Would Have Been a Lot Cheaper

SEATTLE (AP) — A lawsuit spawned by a $1,133 bill to clip a toenail and run some tests at a hospital has been certified as a class action.

The ruling this week in King County Superior Court could raise the stakes by millions of dollars in a consumer protection case brought by Lori Mill against Virginia Mason Medical Center.

Mill is challenging a $418 fee included in the bill for "miscellaneous hospital charges" because she had the work done at Virginia Mason's downtown complex rather than at one of the medical center's satellite clinics.

Virginia Mason officials say the downtown operation is authorized by Medicare to charge higher fees because it is licensed as a hospital, and they maintain that such charges are a standard industry practice.

Extending the lawsuit to cover other Virginia Mason patients who have been billed for such fees, Judge Gregory P. Canova said the main question is whether those charges were properly disclosed or were unfair or deceptive.

Trial is set for July 3. If Virginia Mason loses, the state Consumer Protection Act allows triple damages of up to $10,000 per patient who provides documentation of such a billing. The number of patients potentially affected was not immediately available early Friday.

Mill's lawyer, John Phillips, has obtained internal e-mail showing Virginia Mason doctors and staff have complained about the charges, court filings show.

One unidentified doctor who had a procedure on his own toe at the downtown complex e-mailed Virginia Mason chief executive Dr. Gary Kaplan last year after being billed $1,200, including a facilities charge of $1,138.

"I call it obscene," the doctor fumed. "There has to be some sense of appropriateness/fairness/reasonableness to our charges."

Another, Allan Kayne, a dermatologist, complained after one of his patients was billed for $1,361, including a $754 facilities fee.

"These charges are not only excessive but an embarrassment to me and the medical center," Kayne wrote.

Prostitute Gets 30 Years for Burning House

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — A prostitute who torched a civic leader's home because she was angry that newcomers to the neighborhood were hurting her business was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Dusty Simmons, 45, had never been to prison despite 83 prior convictions for prostitution, drugs, robbery and bail jumping. The judge sentenced her on the arson conviction as a habitual felon, noting Simmons had lived outside the law most of her life.

"She has become a Jacksonville criminal institution," said prosecutor Stephen Siegel, who asked for a life sentence.

Prosecutors said Simmons set the fire because new residents to the Springfield neighborhood were hurting the street prostitution and drug trades. The home's resident was inside at the time of the 2003 fire.

Her defense attorney said Simmons would appeal. Friends and relatives asked for leniency, saying that since being released on bail, Simmons had been drug-free and earned an honest living on her uncle's shrimp boat.

"These last months she's been a real lady and I'd recommend just as much mercy as you can give her," said her cousin, Lester Hodges.

Springfield Preservation and Revitalization Council President Louise DeSpain said she could have been killed.

"I'm a victim who could possibly not be here today because Dusty set my house on fire with me in it," DeSpain said.

Pet Monkey Escapes, Bites Boy on Buttocks

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — A monkey, apparently a pet, escaped, then chased a 12-year-old boy into his house and bit him on the buttocks in the western Malaysian state of Pahang, a news report said Friday.

The monkey, which was believed to be a pet animal because there was a chain around its neck, ran up and down the street in the housing area in Kuantan town as it appeared just after dusk Wednesday, scaring people into their homes, the Bernama news agency reported.

Chinese Eatery Sold Donkey in Tiger Urine

SHANGHAI, China (AP) — A restaurant in northeastern China that advertised illegal tiger meat dishes was found instead to be selling donkey flesh — marinated in tiger urine, a newspaper reported Thursday.

The Hufulou restaurant, located beside the Heidaohezi tiger reserve near the city of Hailin, had advertised stir-fried tiger meat with chilies for $98as well as liquor flavored with tiger bone for $74 a bottle, the China Daily reported.

Raw meat was priced at $864 per kilogram.

The sale of tiger parts is illegal in China and officers shut down the restaurant, only to be told by owner, Ma Shikun, that the meat was actually that of donkeys, flavored with tiger urine to give the dish a "special" tang, the newspaper said.

The report didn't say how the urine was obtained.

Authorities confiscated the restaurant's profits and fined Ma $296 it said. It wasn't clear what Ma was fined for. Selling donkey meat is not illegal in China and it is widely consumed in the northeast.

Ma had initially claimed that the meat came from dead tigers sold to him by the management of the Heidaohezi reserve, but later changed his story, the report said.

While Heidaohezi's director denied that claim, the reserve, with about 150 tigers, has been involved in similar controversies in the past.

Until China outlawed the trade in 1993, the reserve received most of its revenue from the sale of tiger skins, bones and other body parts, which are believed by Chinese to imbue vigor and sexual prowess.

Scuba Divers Begin Living Under Water

PONZA, Italy (AP) — Two scuba divers spent Thursday underwater off Italy, starting what they hope will be a record 10 days submerged — aided by a special dry chamber where they can change masks and eat.

Stefano Barbaresi, 37, and Stefania Mensa, 29, completed the first day living 26 feet under water off the island of Ponza.

They have nine days to go to reach their goal of 240 hours — doubling the 120 hours set by Jerry Hall of Bluff City, Tenn., in eastern Tennessee's Watauga Lake, according to the Guinness world records.

"It's a unique opportunity to understand the limits of mankind under the sea," project organizer Pierfranco Bozzi said, according to the Milan daily Corriere della Sera.

The divers' new home has beds, exercise machines, table and chairs and even a television — all anchored to the sea floor.

Every five to six hours, the two will be able to enter a dry chamber where they can do such things as dine and change masks as well as undergo examinations by researchers, from several Italian hospitals and Rome's Sapienza University.

Scientists will monitor the divers' heart rates and eardrums, Corriere reported.

Compiled by's Jennifer D'Angelo.

Got a good "Out There" story in your hometown? We'd like to know about it. Send an e-mail, with a Web link (we need to authenticate these things), to