Joe and Gage Worsley, and explosion of the Out of System volleyball

HERMOSA BEACH, Ca. — One Saturday a few weeks ago, a family of four woke up at 3 a.m. Mom and dad packed their sleepy children into the car, avoiding the Arizona summer desert heat. They were bound for Hermosa Beach, California, site of, that day, the annual Smackfest tournament, a goofy, co-ed fours event that sells out in minutes. Taylor Crabb plays. So does Troy Field. Geena Urango and Lexy Denaburg and Megan Rice and a host of other sizable names with AVP, even Olympic, bona fides, routinely decorate the field.

This family was making the trip to see none of them, nor did they make it to watch a single point of volleyball.

They parked just after 9 a.m. and rushed to meet Joe and Gage Worsley. They scanned the inventory hanging from the Out of System branded tent, with its now-unmistakable signature pineapple logo, looking for what is quickly becoming gold spun out of recycled plastic: Were there anymore Out of System branded Slunks?

“They got the shorts and went back home,” Joe Worsley, the elder of the two, recounted, laughing. “What? 3 a.m.? You just throw the whole family in the car? People are offering $300 or $400 for our Slunks?”

It still boggles their mind, what Out of System has become. It began how virtually any volleyball media company — the McKibbin Brothers, SANDCAST, Better at Beach — has in the past five years or so, with little to no clue of what in the world they were doing. A few weeks before their official launch as a digital media-type company, at the annual Waupaca Boatride in 2020, Joe called up his old roommate at the University of Hawai’i, Hendrik Mol, as well as the McKibbins, asking for guidance on the best cameras to buy.

“We didn’t even know how autofocus worked until we landed,” Gage said of the Panasonic Lumix G5 camera that he bought without thinking twice or watching a single tutorial. Good timing to figure it out, though, for the Worsleys became overnight sensations that weekend, winning the biggest grass tournament in the world in a style befitting of their Out of System name. In the quarterfinals, against a stacked team of Cody Caldwell, Lev Priima, and Andre Belov, their main hitter, Dalton Solbrig, a former middle with the Worsleys at Hawai’i who has gone onto play professionally in Croatia and Germany, rolled his ankle, a chronic injury that, unfortunately, persists even today. In came their coach, a 50-something former grass player named Luke Lau, who would quickly become known as Luke the Legend. They survived that match, with Luke the Legend making a dig on Caldwell that could likely never be replicated.

How they survived the next grew the legend of Out of System even further. Luke the Legend was cramping, out for the semis. The rules of the tournament stipulated that the Worsleys could grab someone who hadn’t played earlier that day, which is fine, because the open beach tournament the two days prior had brought in a number of high-level players who didn’t want to risk injury playing grass. The problem, however, is finding a sober high-level player. It’s a rollicking good time, Waupaca, with White Claws and whiskey and apple-flavored drinks flowing. As Gage surveyed the crowd, he saw a face that looked somewhat familiar. Then again, it had been eight years since he last saw Chris Shaffer, a decent club player from what Gage remembered.

Shaffer hadn’t played that day. Swore he was sober, too.

Sober enough, anyway. They won their semifinal before Shaffer came clean: Yeah, he’d had about five or six shots prior.

No problem. They upset Tim and Brian Bomgren — “who own that tournament,” Joe said — and Troy Field in the finals. Thus the legend of Out of System was born.

“That was the start of it,” Gage said.

Hell of a start, too: That final from Waupaca has 116,000 views and counting.

Joe Worsley pushes the set off the block of Troy Field/Ed Chan,

That tournament is the very epitome of Out of System, even if nobody quite knew it at the time: an ill-begotten road trip in which they didn’t even know how to operate their cameras, one that became filled with injuries and hysterical, last-minute replacements, from the old and broken to the young and not-so-sober that somehow worked out and wound up with them winning, against all odds.

It’s that last part that, to some, is so surprising. When people follow Out of System, be it on YouTube or Instagram or TikTok, their feeds will be flooded with goofy videos of Gage passing balls off his butt, to the point that he is now known by thousands as, simply, perfectly, wonderfully, the Anus Digger.

“It’s surpassed us being known for our volleyball skill,” Gage said. “Take Smackfest for example, or Spankfest, or Spikefest. We come up with new names for stuff. I’ve had this happen a couple times. People just see us in the semifinals or the finals, and they see someone hit it, and they go ‘Wait a minute, is that the Gwiddy Guy? The guy who digs balls off his butt?’ They’ll come up to us after the game and go ‘I had no idea this guy plays volleyball or is any good whatsoever.’ I love that.”

They are good. Unbelievably good. Not once have they dropped a single set in a grass tournament when the lineup is Joe, Gage, and Micah Ma’a.

Not one set.

From left, Gage Worsley, Micah Ma’a, and Joe Worsley win yet another grass tournament/Out of System photo

That includes every major grass tournament in the country, against genuinely elite teams and players who play virtually nothing but grass volleyball. The three were so dominant in their only Pottstown Rumble, in fact, that they were told they couldn’t come back because — get this — they were too good.

“I’m a very intense gamer when it comes to matches,” Gage said. “I don’t mess around when it comes to the matches. There’s a time and place for me to do stupid stuff.”

He picks them well, too. When he and Joe competed together for SVG Luneburg, a German-based club, the past two years, they stunned the Italian League’s Modena in the CEV Cup, with a roster that included Tokyo Olympic gold medalist outside Earvin Ngapeth and all-world setter Bruno Rezende.

You don’t do that when you’re only doing butt digs and “gwiddys” in the gym.

“For us, having a business is important and it means a lot to us and it provides a lot of value to the clubs and they’ve noticed that,” Joe said. “As long as we’re playing well, they don’t care so much that we’re spending time on [Out of System] as well.”

The company has grown and expanded. Ma’a is now a full-time member, as full-time as he can be, anyway, in between stints as a setter for Halkbank Ankara and currently the No. 2 setter on the United States National Team. Their main videographer, Jake Myers, has become such a social media sensation on his own that he is now known around campus at Cal Poly, and in volleyball circles, as Jake McSlunks. They’ve hired Fayna Zeng to take over their viral social media accounts and Michael Wiseman as their CFO.

His bio on their website reads: “I bring to Out of System what they lack most, age, wisdom, and grey hair.”

He has likely added more grey hairs in working with the Worsleys, a pair of shoot-from-the-hip, fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants brothers. Nothing ever really seems to go to plan, even when it’s their own tournament they host annually in Hawaii. Sometimes things go so awry in the planning, in fact, that it seems that they almost do it intentionally, which actually isn’t all that far off the mark.

“Whenever things are going well, we’re terrible,” Gage said. “For us, we get in the craziest situations, and for us, it is what it is. We gotta sabotage ourselves. Things can’t go too smoothly. Adversity is where we thrive.”

They embrace the adversity, rolling into part of their brand as much as winning volleyball tournaments, recording podcasts, and putting on clinics.

“We know what we’re worth but we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Gage said. “We mess up and that’s part of the brand, baby. It weaves itself in there. If we mess up, we’re supposed to mess up, that’s the Out of System way.

“There’s an Out of System vibe to it. Last summer we made a lot of mistakes with bringing people in. Even this year, too. Just the feel, the product, being around them wasn’t the same. I remember looking at my brother and saying ‘This is not Out of System, what is this?’ It’s our baby, and you want to grow, but you want to keep the energy from the original tour with four guys in a van. We bring that into our hiring process. We always say, ‘Can I be on a five-week tour with this person?’ The worst thing you could hear from us is ‘bro, you could not be on tour with us.’ The biggest compliment is ‘This guy would be sick on tour with us.’ ”

They tour, hitting all of the biggest summer grassroots tournaments in the country, from Waupaca to Smackfest to six-man, which they won again last weekend for the second year in a row. They’ve expanded their business to include merchandise, which sells out in less than two minutes. They host clinics all over the USA. They’ve been asked by fraternities to throw parties for them. Maybe it’ll help the brand. Maybe not.

Who knows?

They’re just figuring it out as they go.

“I didn’t go to school for anything like this. He didn’t go, Micah didn’t go,” Joe said. “We’ve learned everything on the fly. That’s the coolest thing we enjoy about it. Volleyball we still learn but we’ve been around it for 18 years playing volleyball. But from the business side of it, this is new to all of us.

“Volleyball is only going to get you so far. So many people don’t have plans for after, what they’re doing. That’s why they still play. They just keep playing because they don’t have other things they’re as passionate about, which is totally fine, it’s their thing. For us, that’s something our parents were big on: Get your education. Volleyball, we spend a ton of time on it, our business is all volleyball, but in the background we want to continue being in volleyball with something we have control over.”

The Out of System team/Out of System photo

They love volleyball, truly. But they have no desire to get into the USA National Team gym. Gage would have to supplant longtime libero Erik Shoji, whose spot is perhaps the second-most secured position, behind only Micah Christenson, widely regarded as the best setter in the world. It would be Christenson and Ma’a, not to mention Josh Tuaniga and James Shaw, against whom Joe would compete for a spot.

For both, they see it and shrug. They have their club teams overseas — Joe is now with Chaumont Volley-Ball 52, one of the top teams in France; Gage signed again in Germany — and Out of System for the four or so months of off-season. That’s more than good enough for them.

“For me, it’s always about having a purpose. With the setting situation [on the USA National Team], you see people getting into situations and it’s like ‘Where are they going with that?’ For some people, they just don’t know where they’re going. For us, we still feel like we’re climbing in salary and leagues and all these other things. I just continue to move up and enjoy it and it helps the brand in a big way.”

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