[VIDEO] "The Last String:" A Tribute to Tennis Racket Stringer John Mundorff's Career and Love Story

 

Video/ Photos by: Long Nguyen Words by: Amy Rigby

The little shop at 533A Ramona Street was easy to overlook. Tucked away inside the bustling Nola Restaurant and Bar in downtown Palo Alto, The Racket Web appeared to be nothing but a tiny room filled with tennis memorabilia. Antique wooden rackets, vintage tennis ball tins and yellowing newspaper clippings lined the walls.

Similarly, the owner, John Mundorff, soft spoken and exceedingly modest, was easy to overlook. But the moment photographer Long Nguyen set foot in the store in early 2013 to get a tennis racket restrung, he knew there was more than met the eye.

"The first day I met John, I knew that I wanted to document him,“ Nguyen said. “I can’t describe what I felt, but I knew that someone needed to tell his story.”

In September 2014, Nguyen found out Mundorff would be shutting down The Racket Web within the next month. That's what inspired Nguyen to produce "The Last String," a touching tribute to Mundorff's career and, somewhat surprisingly, a love story too.

What many passersby on their way to enjoy a meal in Nola never realized was that the man in the tiny store inside this busy restaurant served as the sole racket stringer for the Stanford University tennis teams for 30 years. During that time, Stanford won 27 NCAA titles.

"You might not measure my career in terms of financial things and stuff like that," Mundorff said. "But I think I've done a pretty good job. I'm proud of it."

Mundorff opened The Racket Web in October 1977, after taking up tennis as a hobby with his wife. Back then the store was surrounded by other small businesses—a frame store, a tie-dye shop and a pottery studio. By 2014, Mundorff's was the last store standing.

During his 37 years of stringing rackets in his shop, he worked with tennis coach greats Dick Gould and Frank Brennan, growing to see them more as friends than as clients. In fact, Mundorff recalled the time his wife suffered a heart attack; Gould was one of the first in line to visit her.

"It cheered her up..." Mundorff said, trailing off as he choked back tears. Finally he whispered, "I can't talk about that.”

For Mundorff (known as "Mundy" to the Stanford tennis teams), the most valuable part of his career was not the wins, the titles or the prestige—it was the friendships he formed. 

"This place has been a hub of all those friendships,” he said. “This is where they came together. That's not going to be there anymore, but the lasting memories for me, and hopefully for them, will still be there.”

Though stringing rackets was a labor of love, Mundorff decided to retire in October 2014 in order to pursue his true love: his wife of 47 years.

"We got married to be together," he said. "You take all these vows and stuff about 'Till death do you part'...but you're parted by work. We want to be together. So I'm looking forward to it."

He described a recent trip to Santa Cruz, where he and his wife walked hand-in-hand, had an outdoor brunch, and spent time "just looking at each other” while enjoying the sunshine.

"We're looking forward to those kind of simple things,” Mundorff said. “Just being together."

Though The Racket Web is closed now, the memorabilia packed up and stored away long ago, the legacy of Mundorff’s passion and love will live on long after the last string is strung.

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Labor Day Sale: Get 15% Off

 

Labor Day is almost here! Reward yourself for all your hard work with some new gear from Custom SLR. Use code GET15 at checkout for 15% off your purchase. (Code expires September 7, 2015 at 11:59 p.m. PDT)

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Working on Vacation: Ryan Taylor’s Kiteboarding Shoot in Grand Cayman

Photos and words by: Ryan Taylor

Vacations are a necessity. We all work hard and deserve some time off. While my non-photographer friends would tell me that it is a time to put down the camera, I see it as an opportunity to do the opposite. I often take vacations as not only a break from work but also a break from some of the creative “confinements” that I find myself in sometimes. Don’t get me wrong; I love the collaboration process between the client and me, but sometimes there isn't the free time to take photos for myself. I try not to overthink it and keep concepts or ideas light. For example, I might want to shoot more landscapes, explore different techniques such as panoramas, or play with my GoPro more. On this particular trip, I knew I wanted to shoot kiteboarding. I was traveling to Grand Cayman with my family and knew it was a hot spot for riding.

 

I called a few contacts through wakeboarding and eventually got in touch with a brand’s team manager. He was able to get me in touch with a couple pros in the area, and I lined up a couple shoots. The first night I shot with Brandon Bowe and Amy Stralko. Brandon is an up-and-coming rider, and his enthusiasm to shoot was awesome. He was able to help me out with anything I needed (a boat to get out to the reef, an extra set of hands to hold flashes, etc.). We shot a good couple hours into the sunset. It was Amy’s birthday that day, so she had to leave early to celebrate; we made plans to shoot the next morning.

Early the next day, my wife and I drove to the other side of the island where Amy lives. We met Amy on a beautiful sandy beach among some mangroves. She admittedly had a bit of a rough start due to the celebrations the night before, but after one hard fall she was back into it. From that moment on, we worked on a few different shots, and she even learned a couple new tricks within the session.

After that, the wind died down and we were able to enjoy some real time off. I got to spend time with my family, do some diving, and I even had the chance to get some riding in myself. In the end, I was able to get a few of the photos published, so all in all it was a very successful vacation. I left the trip feeling refreshed both physically and creatively, which was great considering the next job started immediately upon returning to the States.

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