Filipino surfer Roger Casugay earned the Philippines its first-ever gold medal in surfing at the Southeast Asian Games today (Dec. 8). But even before winning the men’s longboard competition, the 25-year-old athlete was already heralded as the event’s hero for an unselfish act during a semi-final round last week.
Casugay was leading a one-on-one race against Indonesian surfer Arip Nurhidayat Friday (Dec. 6) when he noticed that Nurhidayat broke his ankle leash and was swept by towering waves at Monaliza Point, La Union in northern Philippines. Typhoon Kammuri (called Tisoy locally) has made conditions challenging at the 30th edition of the biennial sporting event.
Casugay, a surfing instructor, paddled back to Nurhidayat and helped him back to shore. Spectator Jefferson Ganuelas described the scene on Facebook, noting Casugay “rescued him not minding the ongoing race for gold medal.”
Sports fans—including many Indonesians on Twitter—are calling Casugay a hero, a title he’s uneasy with. “No, I’m not a hero,” he said to Rappler. “I didn’t really save him from drowning. He is a good swimmer. I just calmed him down.”
“We have a brotherhood in surfing,” he told CNN. “If someone needs help, you go. I didn’t think about winning and [am] just relieved that we were both safe. We were overjoyed when we reached the shore.”
Casugay won a rematch against Nurhidayat yesterday and bested fellow Filipino surfer Rogelio Esquivel for the gold medal.