Radness Triumphs: Skating Event Will Raise Money for Cancer Survivor

The 6th annual Daytime Radness Celebration on Friday Oct. 21 will benefit the Hagars (Island Water Sports’ own legendary skater family) and Grind For Life, a nonprofit organization that helps families battling cancer. Aaron Hagar shares his own story of battling cancer.

It’s Sept. 12 and I’m sitting across the table from Aaron Hager — the dad of Roman and Rocco Hager (two of the most badass “groms” on the Island Water Sports competitive skateboarding team). Aaron is wearing a baby blue, button-up shirt with pink flamingos on it and sporting a bright pink arm cast with the words “I love you” written on them in black Sharpie marker. He has a short buzz cut and is looking a little pale, but for someone who just finished the last of twelve chemotherapy treatments just three weeks prior, he looks pretty bright and cheery.

At the table with us is Linsey Cottrell, one of the owners and operators of Island Water Sports (IWS) whose family opened the famous extreme water sports shop back in 1978. She’s bantering back and forth with Aaron about Rocco’s long blonde hair and Ramon starting middle school next year. Linsey is a huge fan of the Hager boys, who are well-known on the IWS team for their wild personas and generous, kind hearts. She applauds Aaron and his gorgeous wife Angie for raising such “rad” boys in such an unconventional parenting style, which lets the boys pursue extreme sports with fiery passion. Both Roman (aka “The Lord of the Board”) and Rocco are sponsored skaters (by big names like NikeSB and Krux Trucks) who have gained a rather large and loyal following in the South Florida surf-skate-skim culture.

All four of the Hager family are known for their edgy styles and daredevil spirits. Angie (who is Aaron’s own epic, love-at-first-sight story) is a counselor at Camp Woodward, the famous training ground for aspiring professional skateboarders. Aaron, who works at Zimmerman advertising, is the media guru of the Hager crew and helps the boys run their social media channels, which feature the boys in extreme skate videos and skim competitions.

In recent months, however, Aaron has been posting videos of a different kind. For about six months, Aaron has been battling colon cancer. In June, after seven of twelve chemotherapy treatments, Aaron posted a hilariously-heartwarming video to Facebook of himself dancing in Superman underwear in his living room. The video got more than 5,000 views and 51 shares. With the video, Aaron writes:

“In celebration of being over half way done with chemotherapy treatments we made this video. Warning underoos are involved! One thing I have always believed with all my soul is that making people laugh is the best personality trait a human can have. Yes I am a total idiot, always have been, always will be. Lord only knows what kind of video we will make when I am done with this chemo crap.”

“Well it’s time for another video,” Aaron tells Linssey and me over lunch. On Sept. 9, just three days before we meet, Aaron received the good news: his most recent scans came back cancer free.

“September 9 — that date — is now as much a part of my life as anything else,” Aaron says. “It’s my new birthday. I don’t want to celebrate my real birthday any more.”

It was on Aaron’s 43rd birthday — Feb. 22, 2016 — that his battle with cancer began.


Aaron was at work that day when he started to feel strange. It came on fast and strong. He was woozy and disoriented. The hallway floor felt a bit like Jello. He was sweating and clammy, so went outside for some fresh air. It didn’t help. He called Angie, who later said it was the “most bizarre phone call she had ever gotten.” While Aaron’s mind felt clear and he could articulate his words without slurring, there was a disconnect between his brain and his ability to form words. The lag time was staggeringly delayed — by about five or six seconds. Then a wave of nausea hit his insides like a tsunami. He thought he might have food poisoning, but when he went to the restroom, he was startled by blood. He knew something was seriously wrong.

Angie came and got him and took him to the emergency room where doctors immediately rushed him to the stroke unit. They did CT Scans and MRIs of his brain, but found nothing. He had been so disoriented and unable to get his words out that he hadn’t even told the doctors about the blood. When he finally did, the doctors put him under anesthesia and did a colonoscopy.

“I remember waking up in the recovery room and Angie was there and she didn’t look right. She’s sitting there and I can tell, something ain’t right,” Aaron recalls.

He had not suffered a stroke; What he had was a large, blood-thirsty tumor in his colon that had drawn the blood away from his brain. When the doctor explained the tumor, the first thing Aaron said was, “Am I going to die?”

“That was a bad day,” Aaron says, looking away and laughing awkwardly. “It was really bad. It was either the next day, or the day after that they did the surgery. They removed the tumor and took out three feet of my colon.”

Thankfully, the part of his colon doctors removed was on the ascending side; if it had been on the descending, Aaron would have had to wear what’s called a stoma appliance for the rest of his life.

“I remember being like ‘Am I going to have to wear a poop bag? Please God, I don’t want to wear a poop bag. Oh my God, No,’” Aaron recalls chuckling.

When Aaron went home to recover from the surgery, the process was torturous. Air and gas had gotten stuck inside the cavities of his body from having been opened during surgery.

“It was pain that I didn’t think a human body could even produce. For the most part, I take pain pretty well, but this was mind-blowing,” he says. “There was nothing you could do. Pain killers wouldn’t even touch it. I’d try and put my arms up, but you’re cut open, so you’re like ‘Oh my god – ahhh.’ It was so bad. I mean so bad.”

Aaron laughs as he mimics the agony with his hands over his head.

“All I can do is kind of laugh at it at this point — at how bad it was,” Aaron says.

Once Aaron recovered, Angie and he believed the drama was behind them. They went to the doctor for a follow-up appointment looking forward to having the ordeal over with. They were blindsided when the appointment took a dark turn. The cancer had spread to his lymph nodes. He would have to undergo chemotherapy for about six months.

“That’s when the whole ‘Am I going to win? Am I going to lose? Am I going to die? Am I going to leave my wife and kids?’ started,” Aaron says. “So much bad stuff goes through your head. You don’t want it to, but it does.”

In the following months, Aaron underwent chemo treatments. It was a tremendously difficult six months, in particular during the summer, when he and Angie agreed she and Roman should go to Camp Woodward for several weeks. While they were away, Aaron played the single-father role to Rocco while going through chemotherapy and continuing to work.

“My work was super cool. Rocco came to work with me almost every day. We hooked him up in my office. He had an X-Box and a big TV and a bean bag. It worked out fine, but it was very difficult to go through chemo without my whole family…still having to be dad and work and feel like crap, but pretend that I don’t so I can still do all the things I needed to do. I went to a pretty dark place for awhile,” Aaron says.

“You’re scared to death that you’re not going to win — that you’re going to lose your kids and that your kids are ten and eleven years old and are going to have to go through their teens without their dad. Bad stuff goes through your head.”

While Aaron had the loving support of his family and work, Aaron says the darkness and loneliness were tremendous.

“The hardest thing to describe to anybody is yes, everybody loved me. Everybody told me ‘we’re here for you.’ Everybody said ‘you’re going to win.’ Everybody tells you. Everybody at work is crazy supportive and coming in and checking on me. Everybody at home. ‘Are you OK dad?’ But I’ve never felt so alone in my entire life. I’ve never had so many people wanting to help and tell me that they are there, yet felt so alone.”

Aaron says it’s this independently-fought mental battle that’s the worst part — an actual condition dubbed “Chemo Brain.”

“Everybody gets it in different ways because you’re being pumped with poison,” he says. “Chemo is like the devil in a bag.”

Even so, Aaron says it was never an option to not undergo treatment.

“I could never leave Angie ever. That woman is my entire soul. I mean, I had to put myself in the position that seemed like the best decision to be here the longest and chemo, unfortunately, at this point in 2016, seemed like the best decision to make,” he said.

Photo courtesy of the


When Aaron got the good news on Sept. 9 three weeks after his last chemo treatment, he blubbered like a baby. He was at home when the doctor called. Angie and Roman were out front and Rocco was playing with the dog. Aaron took the call and started crying. Rocco came in and was immediately concerned, not knowing what was going on. He gathered Angie and Roman, who stood by, anxiously waiting to know what was going on. Aaron could barely blubber out the words, “I’m crying because I’m so happy.”

“Everyone was hugging on me and happy,” Aaron says. “I probably cried for a solid hour.”

Now Aaron’s eyes are on the future.

“The fog of all the negative worrying about losing is going away. Now I am able to see clearly,” he says. “Here is my second chance. What am I going to do? Where do I want to be? What do I want to do? Let’s not waste any more time. Let’s figure out as a family what we’re going to do and how we’re going to be happiest together. Let’s get there. Whatever it takes. It’s going to take some time to fully break out of the darkness for all four of us in our own different ways, but once we do, that light is going to be a hell of a lot brighter than it ever has been.”

In the blurriness of his journey, one thing is abundantly clear: Aaron’s family is his lifeblood.


In honor of the Hager family and other families who have been through, or are going through, a similar battle with cancer, Island Water Sports (IWS) has announced that this year’s Daytime Radness beneficiary will be the Hager family. IWS has teamed up with Grind for Life, a non-profit organization that aids families struggling with the financial and emotional burdens of cancer. The founder of Grind for Life, Mike Rogers, is a semi-pro skateboarder and two-time cancer survivor.

“Mike is a great, ripping skateboarder. He lost his eye to cancer,” said Linsey. “Grind for Life is a cool organization. Hopefully we can create some awareness. People don’t really think about the consequences and other expenses that come with having cancer. A lot of kids need to be reminded of this — they don’t have a clue about how cancer can rock a family.”

Cottrell hopes the Hager boys, who are known as some of the most giving and encouraging boys in the skate community, can help spread a message of hope.

“Having people like Roman and Rocco go through it firsthand and share their story could encourage other kids who are going through the same thing,” she said. “It’s not like they will have words of wisdom or anything, but at least they can say ‘Dude, I’ve been there bro. I’ve been there.’”

— By Danielle Charbonneau | Published in Deerfield Beach! magazine in 2016