CARDIFF-BY-THE-SEA — After earning a straight line of Fs in writing in the sixth grade, Chris Ahrens would never have guessed he’d grow up to be a writer.
“I remember showing my report card to my parents with a straight line of Fs all the way across and I said, ‘I want to be a writer,’” he laughed. “They just looked at me like, ‘yeah, right?’”
Well, that didn’t stop the 69-year-old Cardiff resident, who has just self-published his eighth book, “God and Gangsters.”
Ahrens, who has lived in Cardiff since the 1970s, said this book has special meaning for him and he hopes to have a part two soon.
“It’s 21 stories about hardcore criminals that I interviewed and who have had bad lives,” he said. “I mean real hardcore criminals like a co-founder of the Mongol’s Motorcycle Club, some Crips, Mafia members and other former gang members. It’s about how they all came to fame and then changed their lives around. Each story has a happy ending.”
Rather than profit from the book, Ahrens said he has been giving it away to pretty much anyone including juvenile halls, and prisons, or whoever wants it. In June, Ahrens will kick off the “official book signing” at Calipatria State Prison.
Surfing and more
Of course, writing was constantly in the back of his mind, but Ahrens has always been a surfer at heart. In fact, the two ideas merged in 1972.
Ahrens said he got his “first real writing break” when he moved to Australia when he was in his 20s.
“I was pretty much sleeping on the beach and I started writing a story about surfing,” he said. “I ended up submitting it on paper in my own handwriting and a local publication bought it for $40.”
The son of a post office worker and a housewife, he was born in Los Angeles but spent most of his life in Cardiff, except for a few stints in Australia when he was younger.
“I’ve always been pretty lucky and at the right place at the right time when it came to getting work,” he said. “I’ve been a bartender, ran a surf shop, helped make surfboards, among other things, and one of my first reporting jobs was for the Rincon Indian Reservation in 1976.”
In addition to working at several San Diego newspapers in the 1980s, he served as the editor of Risen Magazine where he interviewed celebrities such as Ozzy Osbourne and Carlos Santana about their spirituality.
“I tried to make myself stand out and when I interviewed Ozzy, I asked him where he thought he might be in 10,000 years,” Ahrens recalled. “He laughed and took it quite literally, he said: ‘I’ll be an archeological dig, won’t I?’”
Ahrens first book came around in 1990 after he met his wife, Tracy, who suggested he compile all of his surfing stories in one place. He said for years he wrote about the topic, but he couldn’t get anyone to buy them after a while.
In 1991, he published “Good Things Love Water,” named after a line of dialogue in a Steinbeck story.
Ahrens went on to write films and documentaries, but his current book “God and Gangsters,” is one of his favorite works to date.
“I think today’s youth is taught to think prison and gang life is cool,” he said. “It’s not; as simple as that sounds, it’s just not.”
When he isn’t writing books, films or his column, “Waterspot,” about all things beach-related for The Coast News, Ahrens teaches and mentors students about surfing at The Grauer School in Encinitas.
“It’s a good getaway for me and away from the writing,” he said. “Sometimes, I just want to get out there and really get my hands dirty.”
He also enjoys spending time with his daughter, his two grandchildren, and of course, his top fan and personal editor, his wife, who also works at The Grauer School.
“From surfing to gangsters, I’ve led a remarkable life,” he said. “I count myself blessed.”