River of Dreams: Childhood memories inspire kayak business

High adventure seemed always just around the river bend when Troy Cooper was growing up in Naperville.

Decades later that same passion for hiking, biking, snowboarding and kayaking propelled Cooper and his wife, Kymberly, to create Naperville Kayak, a business dedicated to helping others explore the great outdoors, albeit in their own back yards.

And this summer the family-owned company started offering float trips down the DuPage River in Naperville and Plainfield and on the Fox River in Oswego.

Cooper’s journey into the kayak business can be traced to his childhood.

A youngster from the south side of Naperville, he and friends rode mountain bikes over hills of dirt on subdivision construction sites and tossed a blow-up raft or a canoe into the DuPage River to float from one spot to the next.

When the Naperville Central High School graduate returned to his hometown to work as a real estate agent after college at the University of Texas at Austin, he knew he wanted to stay connected to those adventurous roots.

To Cooper, outdoor sports are an opportunity to relieve the stress of the daily grind.

“People need more time outside to unplug,” he said.

One such way was through kayaking, and in 2008 Cooper and his wife decided that if no one else was going to start a kayak company in Naperville, they would.

For assistance in developing his business model, Cooper turned to Chicago Kayak owner and longtime friend Dave Olson.

“Troy and I have been friends since we were little,” said Olson, who also grew up in Naperville and now lives in Lisle.

Olson was an obvious choice, beyond the friendship factor. He had the same passion for kayaking, starting his company a decade earlier and operating briefly in Naperville.

“We used to do trips on the DuPage River, and Troy, being who he is, came along,” Olson said.

Olson and Cooper had many conversations about targeting beginning to intermediate kayakers and teaching them about river safety.

“Naperville definitely is a great town to do it in,” Olson said.

What makes kayaking enticing, Olson said, is the sense of accomplishment after completing a trip.

“Anybody can do it. … You don’t need to have a ton of experience,” Olson said. “It’s so much more rewarding than other things because sometimes it means getting outside their comfort zone.”

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