Surf and Sea: Moments of Serenity on Topsail Island

From the pre-dawn still to glittering sunset, photographer Bob Karp captures moments of serenity on Topsail Island.
by Ayn-Monique Klahre / additional reporting by Emily Clemente and Cady Smith | photography by Bob Karp

About two hours from Raleigh lies a 26-mile stretch where waves meet the shore. It’s here, on Topsail Island, where photographer Bob Karp and his wife, Claudia, find serenity. “We just love exploring new places,” he says.

Topsail Island—and Surf City, in particular—remind Karp of summers on Cape Cod, and his wife of her native Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. “We’re both beach people,” Karp says. “All we need is a coffee shop and a pizza place, and we’re set.”

Their routine is simple: rise at sunset for a walk on the beach with the dog, return to watch the waves a little later. “I love being up early, being the first one out, says Karp. “There’s something magical about a brand new day, brand new everything. The sun’s coming up—what am I going to do?” Karp, naturally, has cameras in hand, and the early light sings across the water.

Karp, a relative newcomer to North Carolina (he and his wife moved to Cary in 2019), said one of his favorite aspects of Topsail Beach is the shark tooth hunting. “This was a surprise, and brand new for us,” says Karp. “I’ve always been a big fossil fan, so as soon as we heard that they have shark teeth on the beach, we were very excited—these teeth were in the mouth of a giant shark a million years ago!” And sure enough, toward the end of their first trip, they found their first one. “My wife just reached down and pulled out this beautiful, perfect little tooth.” After that, Karp admits, they got a little obsessed. “I’d get up to walk the dog at sunrise with my flashlight and look for teeth,” he says. They soon figured out a system: scan the shells for something black, shiny and triangular. “My wife finds the big ones, I find the little ones,” says Karp.

The relatively uncrowded beaches of Topsail create an opportunity for both solitude and connection. Surfers and fishermen, dog-walkers and beachcombers filter past each other in easy harmony. Karp captured these moments and shared a few of them with us.