Meet the Million Dollar Crew: Justus Zils
More than 29,000 people from 125 countries submitted their favorite HERO9 Black clips for the chance to be featured in the third annual Million Dollar Challenge highlight reel. Only 56 creators made the cut, earning almost $18,000 a piece.
Los Angeles-based creator, Justus Zils, is not your average adrenaline junkie. While he lives for thrills, they're not his full time gig. Justus holds a 9-to-5 Monday through Friday and spends the weekends and his off time getting into some seriously hair-raising antics.
We recently caught up with the man behind the 2020 MDC hot air balloon sky dive to learn more about his delicate balance between work and play and passion for flying through the sky. Check it out.
GoPro: Tell us more about yourself. You mentioned your day job is Revenue Operations at Crexi?
Justus: Born and raised in Louisville, Ky., before moving out to Los Angeles after grad school to pursue a career in investment banking … and to be somewhere I could do just about any outdoor activity year round. The work hard, play hard mentality of investment banking was a great fit for me, but after five years of it, I decided I wanted to be involved in an early stage company—and not just from a transactional standpoint.
Enter Crexi. It was perfectly in the crosshairs of what I was looking for in a company: Venture-backed tech startup in the commercial real estate space with an incredible culture and smart people. Trading in the suit and dress shoes for jeans, T-shirts and sneakers was a welcomed change that was more in line with my personality.
Immediately upon starting at Crexi, I realized it was full of people who enjoyed a lot of the same outdoor activities as I di—they even had Slack channels for weekend group outings and adventures. It’s uncommon for a week to go by where there isn’t a group of Crexi folks taking part in a dawn patrol surf, weekend ski/snowboarding trip, sunset hike, spike ball tournament, pick-up basketball or even a morning hot air balloon skydive. I’m also that person who always has a GoPro in his backpack, so I’m always prepared to get the shot when the opportunity presents itself.
Tell us more about how you got your Million Dollar shot. Did you specifically wear the spacesuit as part of your grand plan to land in the 2020 MDC?
The Million Dollar shot came together in the 11th hour of the challenge. The night of Dec. 3 (the cutoff was Dec. 4), I got a text from my hot air balloon pilot friend to let me know he could accommodate four skydivers the next morning on the sunrise balloon ride. I reached out to some skydiving buddies (two of which were also from Crexi) to let them know that we had spots on the balloon. We needed to leave at 3:30 a.m. to get to Perris, Calif., in time for the balloon the next morning. Of course, they were up for the jump.
The next morning when I was getting all my skydiving gear together, I realized I had a couple space suits that I had ordered for a heli jump that was planned for a later date … so of course, I brought them along. I wasn’t sure if we would use them because of how cold it was when we got there, but when I tried mine on, it looked too funny not to wear for the jump. Lucky for me, it was also surprisingly insulated. On the ride home from the jump, I realized I still had time to submit to the Million Dollar Challenge, so before heading into work [Dec. 3 was a Thursday] I uploaded and submitted the footage.
Did you think you had the winning shot?
I was hopeful, but knew the competition was stiff. There are so many GoPro users who are constantly pushing limits and capturing incredible shots in the most unique ways. It was going to take more than just a normal hot air balloon skydive to make the cut.
The morning of the space suit balloon skydive, the conditions were perfect, the timing of the sunrise was just right, and the way the light hit the spacesuit made it look legit. It’s hard to tell when that magic moment is going to happen, when everything aligns just right, but I’m glad the GoPro was recording when it did.
How long have you been hucking yourself out of hot air balloons?
My first skydive was on Jan. 4, 2019, at Skydive Perris. A buddy of mine thought it would be fun for us to “jump” into the new year, so we called up the drop zone and scheduled our AFF First Jump Course. Neither of us had jumped before, but by going through the course, we could jump with our own parachutes instead of jumping tandem. After landing that first jump, I immediately walked over to the school and scheduled my next jump and purchased the “A” License package. I was committed. Not only did it become an after-work hobby, but sometimes a before-work hobby, too.
Skydivers, like many other action sports enthusiasts, are very fun people and most are always down for an adventure. It was very easy to make friends who were making the trip from Los Angeles to Perris to skydive every weekend. Not only did jumping out of planes turn into jumping out of balloons and helicopters, but also weekend snowboarding trips, surf sessions, motorcycle rides and even the running of the bulls in Pamplona!
Have any exciting plans for 2021?
2021 is full of exciting plans! I kicked off the year by heli skydiving into private land in Joshua Tree (in spacesuits as well). One of my buddies from my AFF First Jump Class and I are in the process of planning a heli skydiving trip to Moab for a weekend of extreme activities, as well as novelty hot air balloon and heli jumps around holidays and special events that involve props and costumes.
I’ve started training for my Private Pilot License and plan on documenting the progress along the way. Once I get the fixed-wing license under my belt, I’ll move on to rotorcraft as well. Hopefully, this will lead to more weekend adventures and GoPro content.
Do you have a dream location where you’d want to skydive?
There are so many places I would love to skydive—over the pyramids in Egypt, Palm Islands in Dubai, Blue Hole in Belize, Fiji Islands, etc. However, skydiving is very much an experience that is enhanced by the people involved. That said, if anyone reading this is planning a special skydiving trip to an exotic location and want someone with a few GoPros to tag along, let me know! Looking forward to capturing more priceless moments with great friends and GoPro.
Feel free to follow along on my journey on my YouTube channel.
Watch the HERO9 Black Million Dollar Challenge highlight reel here.