Zachary Kingsbury, 20, was pulled over in Surf City after an officer spotted illegal contraband in his car.
Kingsbury took off on foot toward the ocean, jumped in and started swimming away, authorities said.
Police used a drone to follow Kingsbury as he swam out to sea and noticed a shark lurking dangerously close.
Multiple agencies, including the Coast Guard, helped in the chase and authorities said Kingsbury, a Washington native, was more than 4,000 feet off shore when they finally caught up with him three hours later.
Kingsbury was being held in the Pender County Jail on Thursday.