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A weekend spent diving with Panamanian Special Forces in April 2014 was definitely a highlight in the life of Canadian citizen, Tom Dawson, an avid diver and resident of Panama for nearly a decade.
“It was very memorable,” said Dawson who is 61 years old. “I’m not a spring chicken anymore,” he said. “I doubt I will ever top that weekend.”
Dawson has been diving with Master Scuba Diver Trainer, Rey Sanchez, on a consistent basis for almost three years. Sanchez owns Golden Frog Scuba in Portobelo, Colón. According to Dawson, “Rey has been teaching me right from the beginning, through advanced open water certification and finally to my rescue certification.”
Recalling his advanced open-water training, Dawson explained, “The first time you do an 100 ft. dive, it is awesome to look up and realize there are 10 stories of water above you. At about the 60 to 70 ft. level, Rey asked me to take the regulator out of my mouth and swim to the surface with no air. What’s cool about that is the science; the air that gets compressed in your lungs as you dive down expands as you ascend.”
Being invited out to dive with Sanchez and his special forces buddies, says a lot about how well Dawson dives and how good Sanchez is as his dive instructor. “Rey was comfortable that the dive was within my abilities,” said Dawson. “There are guys we dive with who focus more on teaching the young people discovery diving and coming out for their first open water dives. Rey does do some of that, but a lot of people he teaches and dives with are very advanced divers.”
Diving with the Special Forces
“We were recently invited to spend a weekend diving Coiba with a Panamanian Special Forces Group. They are just regular guys when they are out of uniform,” Sanchez said. “They do a really tough job. They’re out after drug dealers all the time. It’s very scary.”
Dawson added: “One of the Special Forces guys with us used to be one of the Coiba prison guards. Like me, he’s probably in his late 50’s or early 60’s, and he is still in the special forces.
The prison on Coiba was closed in 2004. Identified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2005, Coiba National Park offers rich and well-preserved natural resources.
“In Panama, Coiba is one of the best places to dive,” said Dawson. “There is simply no place like it.”