Carrson Pearce has spent most of his life on the water.
Life as a competitive sailor has taken the Stafford Township resident all over the world, including Italy, Germany, Uruguay and Argentina.
But the 17-year-old’s most notable trip abroad happened last month, when he finished third in the 46th annual Youth Sailing World Championships in Auckland, New Zealand.
Carrson, whose family also has a home in Florida, earned his spot among 51 of the best youth sailors in the world by winning the U.S. Championships in August.
In eight races from Dec. 16 to 19, Carrson earned enough points to win a bronze medal.
“I’m a firm believer that God is with me when I’m on the water,” he said.
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Carrson’s mom, Angie, remembers years of loading the family car, the sailboat riding on the roof, to go from race to race.
“We got to see the country and go abroad together to places we would have never seen if it wasn’t for sailing, and those memories we have are priceless, said Angie Pearce, 45.
The Pearce family settled in the Manahawkin section of Stafford Township when Carrson was 5. That summer, his father, Dixon, a Delta Airlines pilot, joined the Surf City Yacht Club to race sailboats with a friend.
After two years, Dixon Pearce, now 57, decided to bring Carrson along for the first day of a summer sailing program.
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“After just one day, I was in love,” Carrson said. “Then, after a few days there, I started meeting people that became good friends, which was huge for a home-schooler like me.”
Surf City Yacht Club on Barnegat Bay remains Carrson’s favorite place from which to sail.
“Every year, when I’d sail there as a kid, I’d have so much fun with my friends, the time would just fly by. It just never felt long enough,” he said.
Ten years later, Carrson’s love of sailing has continued to grow. He has got other interests, of course. He spends much of his time on land keeping up with his school work at home. But he also enjoys hanging out with friends and playing guitar with a band from a Manahawkin Baptist Church youth group.
But it’s sailing that has a special hold on the teen.
“Sailing is hard to explain, even for me,” Carrson said. “It’s an amazing sport because there are so many variables involved, and it’s so complicated. ... Even if I just go out for a sail by myself, I always have such a great time on the water.”
The sport has brought the Pearce family across the United States and beyond.
“I’m so grateful to see the world at such a young age, and with my family alongside of me. We fly where we need to, but if it’s within 30 hours of driving, we still load up the car and go,” he said.
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During the summers, Carrson trains in Barnegat Bay. The rest of the year, he and his family head to Florida, where he sails out of the Fort Lauderdale Yacht Club.
“Ever since I started being competitive at age 12, I’ve trained year-round,” Carrson said. “Being home-schooled allowed me to be able to train at my pace, and that has been crucial for me to be able to work as hard as I want to.”
Earlier this month, Pearce was accepted into his top college choice, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York. Pearce hopes to sail for the school’s laser boat team while studying there.
College will be Carrson’s first experience with schooling outside the home and, more importantly to him, his first time away from his family. But his mother isn’t worried.
“Over the years, sailing builds your character,” Angie Pearce said. “It’s an independent sport that teaches you to be accountable for yourself, to be dedicated and to strengthen yourself for yourself.”
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“I will miss him very much, but I can’t wait to watch him blossom and continue to grow into his own person,” she said.
Carrson’s next competition will be in Clearwater, Florida, at the Laser Midwinters East Regatta from Feb. 22 to 26. In college, he will study marine transportation. He hopes to someday take charge of a different kind of boat.
“I want to spend my time on a big ship, go out on the sea for a few years,” Carrson said. “Hopefully, one day I can become a harbor pilot. That’s the plan, to continue my life on the water.”