By Della Watson
Grilled: Vinny Abeygunawardena | Best Internship | Fighting Coal Down Under
Invading the Privacy of the People Who Make the Club Tick
Photo by Mitch Tobias
Name: Vinny Abeygunawardena
Location: El Cerrito, California
Contribution: Inner City Outings rafting trip leader
Website: Inner City Outings
How many Inner City Outings (ICO) rafting trips have you done? Probably 150 to 200 in the last five years.
Tell me about your first trip. I had never been rafting, never even been camping. In 2001, a friend who was a raft guide with ICO invited my [now] wife and me to come rafting. My wife had done a lot of outdoorsy stuff, so she was trying to get me to go, but I'd always thought that camping was weird and that I was going to get hacked to death by some crazy guy at a campsite. But we decided to go. We show up at camp, and it's pouring rain, in the middle of March, freezing cold, and I'm like, "I am not getting out of this car. It'd take me two hours to put up the tent." I sleep in the car—the worst sleeping experience ever. And the next day on the river, when we get to the first rapid, everyone in my boat somehow ends up out of the boat, and I'm the only one left inside. We're in a Class III rapid, so people are yelling at me to pull them in, and I just duck in, like, "I'm not moving. I don't care what you guys want me to do. You guys went out—not my problem." But somehow I pull a couple of people in, and then they pull in the rest, and it ends up being a lot of fun.
When did you and your wife become trip leaders? We got married in 2007, and two friends gave us life jackets for our wedding gift. We took training classes in 2008, and we were on the river every weekend of that year.
And before rafting and camping? My wife and I used to be club promoters. And before that, we were really into swing dancing. Sometimes we'll just bust out swing moves at diners on the way back from a rafting trip, and people are always like, "What the heck is going on?"
How did you transition from swing dancing to club promotion? Our friends from swing dancing started getting more into the club scene. A lot of people were into electronica music in the early 2000s, and a big scene cropped up in the Bay Area. We threw a lot of small parties and even did some underground warehouse parties. But then it got to the point where people were doing it to make money, so we didn't want to deal with it anymore.
What's next? We're in it for the long haul with the rafting. I'm trying to get into fly-fishing, but you've got to stand in the river without doing anything. —interview by Jess Krager
Do you know a Sierra Club volunteer who deserves recognition? Send nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Could Be You
Would you like to spend the summer getting paid to explore the United States? Oregon State University senior Daniel Cespedes and Pitzer College sophomore Izzy Weisz were able to do just that as the Sierra Club's 2013 Summer Youth Ambassadors. Watch videos by Cespedes and Weisz to see how their summer adventures unfolded and learn how you can apply for the 2014 Best Internship on Earth at sierraclub.org/bestinternship.
Fighting Coal Down Under
Anti-coal activists in Newcastle. | Photo by Nicole Ghio (photo frame by Lori Eanes)
When Victoria McKenzie-McHarg traveled from her native Australia to the United States to learn more about anti-coal activism, she found a resource worth importing: the Sierra Club's grassroots organizing model. Impressed by the Club's successful campaign to stop 179 (and counting) proposed coal plants, McKenzie-McHarg and fellow Aussie activists invited Club organizers to travel Down Under.
In May, six representatives from the Club's Organizing Department, International Campaign, and Coal Exports program traveled to Australia, the world's second-largest coal exporter, to train activists in Newcastle. "We were humbled by the energy and creativity of the activists we met in Australia," Sierra Club representative Nicole Ghio says. "This was by no means a one-way exercise."