My suggestion is to start reading about our sport (yours and mine) and join a club with good beginner support. Don't be afraid to evaluate their safety practices. Look at their organization, communication, and attitude on the water. I say this only because I was a member of a club for years and, looking back on those days, we were a danger to ourselves and others. We had a great time but had a few near misses too. The Gauley has a well-earned reputation so approach it with respect. Damn I miss that river!
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