HAPpy People - Tom Vandel

November 3, 2017

Meet HAP Board Member and Editor-in-Chief, Tom Vandel. T-Bone as some call him is a professional copywriter/creative director with a one-man firm called Les Overhead. He served as a River Hugger safety kayaker one year and swam the Mayoral Swim in high-top Converse tennis shoes, which he does not recommend.


Were you a swimmer as a kid?

Yeah, I have three younger brothers and we went to the pool every day in summer growing up. I loved going off high dives and playing spy swimming under water, but never swam on a team. Also swam a lot in lakes and rivers growing up in Montana. I swam with the River Huggers a couple times the first year but was slow as molasses, so I became a safety kayaker, until we got a little safer. Good thing.


How did you meet Willie?

We met playing basketball, I think at Dishman in Portland. He was (is) a monster rebounder and an interesting guy. We got along well from the start and began hanging out, going to bars to hear music and such. Then when he found out I was an adman/copywriter he asked for help when his wife Pamela started Popina Swimwear. I connected them with Dotzero Design – best damn design duo in Portland – and we helped them launch their brand. We did the same for Human Access Project and The Big Float.


How did you end up on the HAP board? How long have you been on the board?

One day Willie told me he wanted to have a river float party to bring attention to the river. I thought it was a grand idea. We did that – a funky little event called The Big Float. It was a kick. Then he said let’s do it again next year. Hmmm I thought, this guy has genius ideas. He’s a little out there. Then he said he wanted to start a nonprofit devoted to river access and we thought of some names and the Human Access Project was born. I was the 2nd board member and it has slowly evolved ever since. It’s about the most fun you can have without being naked.


What does your inner 13 year old most want to do?

Ha! I’d say it would be play in a rock band. I was in one at about that age called The Silver Strings (such a lame name, I wanted it to be The Invaders but was outvoted). We broke up in 7th grade. Only knew 2 ½ songs: Gloria, House of the Rising Sun, and half of Kicks by Paul Revere and the Raiders. Other than that, I’d say travel the world as a pro skier making movies. I also wanted to be a cartoonist but couldn't draw to save my life. 


What is your vision for Portland and the Willamette River?

I would love to see floating diving boards and slides. I think a catapult of some sort to launch people into the river would be awesome. A large tire swing or bungee cord hanging from the Hawthorne Bridge would be nice. And not having people shake their heads like you’re bat-shit crazy when you mention swimming in the river. That would be cool. The history of our river is sad as hell, but it’s gonna be heavenly soon. Good things are happening and it is just one huge, fulfilling blast to be a part of it. 


What do you do in real life? What or who is Les Overhead?

When dressed, I am a freelance advertising copywriter/creative director, and have been since July 4, 1989 when I quit my last ad agency job (I was losing my mind). I started Les Overhead that independence day – a one-man creative firm serving the entire earth. I’m a great boss but a lousy employee. If you know anyone who needs creative advertising or writing help, have them contact me. As my motto says:  Do More With Les. 

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