Everything You Need To Know About Surfing On Topsail Island
What comes to mind when you think about Topsail Island, NC?
Maybe thinking about Topsail Island makes you think about last year's fabulous vacation: the top quality vacation rental home brought to you by Ward Realty, the fresh local cuisine, and the events and adventures that you can only experience in our small slice of coastal paradise. Or maybe you think about the beach home that Ward Realty helped you purchase, the one that's situated in just the perfect spot for you and your family to enjoy for years to come.
But did you know that Topsail Island also happens to have a thriving surfing community? It's true! Topsail Island's natural ocean topography and position along the Carolina coast work together to create an almost constant supply of surf-worthy waves.
So if surfing is something that you've always wanted to try, or if you're looking for a great new location to hang ten, keep reading to learn why Topsail Island is the perfect place for you!
Surfers have a language all their own! Here are a few surf terms that you'll find throughout this article:
Ground Swell: Ground swell waves are faster, further apart, less steep, thicker, and more powerful than wind swell waves. A ground swell is often identified by a wave period of more than 15 seconds. These long-period waves also break in shallower waters.
Hang Ten: A longboarding maneuver where the surfer hangs ten toes of both feet over the tip or front of the surfboard.
Line Up: The area where surfers sit waiting for waves. Generally just outside of the break line or impact zone.
Rip Current: A powerful, narrow channel of fast-moving water that can move at speeds of up to eight feet per second.
Sick: A term used when someone does something impressive.
Wave Period: The amount of time it takes for two successive wave crests to pass through a determined point.
Wind Swell: When local winds blow over the surface of the water near the shores, they create wind swell waves. These short-period waves usually make for decreased quality of surf conditions and choppy waters.
Topsail Island's Local Surf Scene
Topsail Island is a 26-mile stretch of barrier island situated in a cove just off the mainland coast of eastern North Carolina. The island is known for its relatively consistent surf, which is as likely to be ground swell as it is to be wind swell.
According to George Howard, the owner of Surf City’s On Shore Surf Shop, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find surf somewhere along the island. “There are always breaks up and down the island,” he says. “We’re in a bay, so it’s beach break, sandy bottom, and it’s shallow all the way through. And if the wind’s wrong on one end of the island, it’s usually right on the other end. You can always find a swell on Topsail.”
And he should know! George himself is a lifelong surfer who’s been carving the Topsail Island waves for decades. He and his wife moved to Surf City in the early 1990’s and opened On Shore in an old arcade way back in 1997.
“Everyone knows about us now,” he declares when asked about Topsail Island’s larger surf scene reputation. “Ohio knows about us. Pennsylvania knows about us.” He chuckles. “Raleigh, Chapel Hill. Those guys have always known about us. Now, with I-40 the way that it is, they’re here every weekend!”
When asked about the most consistent place to find surfable waves, he doesn’t hesitate. “The secret’s out! Surf City Pier has the best break on the island.”
Surfers as an overall group are a peaceful and welcoming people. That said, there are some guidelines that you need to know and follow when interacting with these alluring beings in their aquatic environment.
Break these general rules at your own risk!
- Respect the locals. Remember, as a welcomed visitor, you are a guest in their house. Please behave accordingly. Treat their ocean home the same way you would treat your rich, childless, doting Great Aunt Edna’s house: stay in approved areas, speak nicely to others, and remember that there’s more than enough good stuff to go around.
- Respect the rip. Surfers often use these handy currents to quickly zip out into deeper waters. Rip currents often occur near structures such as piers, but they can be found along any coastline that features breaking waves. These currents can be dangerous, even for experienced swimmers! Learn how to break the grip of the rip.
- Know your truth. In other words, don’t get into a surfing situation that you can’t handle. If you’re a beginner surfer or even if it’s been a while, stay out of the thick of things. Don’t go into water that’s more turbulent or powerful than you’re accustomed to surfing. If you’re rusty on the rules of order or haven't quite caught the vibe of the group yet, watch the way the lineup cycles before jumping in.
Review a more detailed list of surfing etiquette rules here!
Whether you’re in the market for lessons or longboards, Topsail Island has a couple of locations that can help you supply the full scope of your surfing needs.
On Shore Surf Shop: You knew this one would make the list! On Shore offers surfing and stand-up paddle board lessons, rents equipment, and sells anything and everything you could possibly need to have a successful surf session. On Shore also does on-site board repair in the event that your personal equipment has incurred dings or holes. Located in Surf City, this shop is smack dab in the middle of Topsail Island surf and turf.
North Topsail Surf & Paddle: If you’re nearer to the top end of the island, you may prefer to pop into North Topsail Surf & Paddle. This shop also offers surf lessons as well as paddle board or kayak tours along the Intracoastal Waterway. You can also rent any necessary board equipment here.
Click here for a more complete list of places to rent gear or take lessons.
King of the Peaks
No overview of surfing on Topsail Island would be complete without a mention of the King of the Peaks surf competition.
Sponsored by none other than On Shore Surf Shop, 2018 will mark the 5th anniversary of this annual event. Started in 2014, this competition honors the memory of local surfer Kurt Murray, a young man who was fatally injured while surfing swell from Hurricane Igor at the Surf City Pier in 2010. Proceeds from this event go in part to fund a scholarship for a Dixon High School student.
Synopsis of the 2014 event as reported by the Jacksonville Daily News: “Attracting some of the best surfers in the area, the contest took place on the north side of Surf City Pier with divisions in both long and short board competition. Winners of the open short board and open long board divisions are crowned “King of the Peak” until they relinquish their title at next year’s contest.”
This year’s event will be held in September, although as of the date of this publication, the exact day and time are still pending. Registration forms and additional information can be found online.
Next time you find yourself on Topsail Island, make some time to catch some waves. You'll find yourself in some seriously sick company!