Teiki Ballian has enjoyed perhaps the greatest surf life imaginable. He spent his childhood diving off the side of charter yachts captained by his French father and Martiniquais mother and into lineups the world over. Now, as the new owner of Hollow Tree’s Resort in Sumatra, he enjoys unfettered access to one of the world’s premier right-handers, Lance’s.

While it was certainly a unique upbringing, it wasn’t always as idyllic as it sounds.

“My parents never had money. They worked so hard their whole lives, pioneering and chartering all around the world with no GPS to navigate or even internet to be able to find guests. It’s was all about reputation,” Ballian says. “Chartering got much harder when I was born because guests didn’t want to rent a boat with an infant on board—as though it would ruin their holidays.”

Ballian’s parents supplemented what income they made from chartering with odd jobs in different ports around the world. The family had been posted up in Colombia when they got the opportunity to run a charter in the Mentawai Islands. This was 1998, some years before the region would become substantially more inundated with surfers and charter boats.

The Mentawais certainly seem to suit Ballian. As you’ll see in the video above, he’s developed a stylish and progressive approach. Now, with his new venture on Sumatra, he’s seemingly put down roots for the first time in his life.

We caught up with Ballian to talk more about his surfy life and the changes under foot at Hollow Tree’s Resort.

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Jungle dwellers Sina Kirmse and Teiki Ballian. Photo: Novis

Your parents were certainly adventurous spirits. What lessons did you learn from them that you’ve taken into this venture as the new owner of Hollow Trees resort?

I grew up doing charters with my parents, so hospitality was part of my daily life and that for sure was a big help for the resort. But the main thing I would say is whatever my parents did they never thought about the business or money side of things. They focused more on the human side—the lifestyle, making the guests feel at home while on holiday and feeling so relaxed and in peace that they forget that they are actually on a paid holiday. I really try my best to reflect that attitude. Our motto at Hollow Tree’s Resort is: Come and be a dreamer.

After traveling the world, what stood out to you about the Mentawais? What made you decide to stay there?

The set up is amazing—the waves, the lack of trade winds, no current, consistent swell, clean water, the people and the islands are so beautiful. I grew up here so my connection is deep, my first season was in 1998 and I was 13 years old and I have never missed a season in all those years. I actually don’t see myself living anywhere else. 

Can you tell me a bit about Hollow Trees resort? What was it like before you took over? What improvements have you made?

The Resort had a long history of drama over the years since 2005. But I never really paid any attention until I laid my eyes on it in 2016 while I came to compete at Hollow Tree’s for a QS 1000. I was shocked to see that at such an amazing location, the resort was closed and semi-abandoned. That’s when I put together a plan to make Hollow Tree’s Resort great again. There has been a lot of changes since. The whole atmosphere, first, then decorations, electricity, plumbing, a tree house, three different areas for chilling in front of the wave, the yoga deck, surf shop, massage room, and I found a great local chef and got him trained by other chefs from all around the world. Food is one of our main focuses. We also try to be as eco friendly as we can. We use papaya stem straws, no plastic bottles, all guest get their own refillable bottle. Our organic hydroponic garden gives us salads, cherry tomatoes, basil, mint, coriander. All that and we’ve only been open for a year and a half. Every day we improve and it’s really exciting.

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