Originally Posted by streetdoctor
+1 But it definitely depends on the type of person you are. If you are strong willed learning in a play boat is the way to go. I have a couple friends I started with that also started in play boats (I started in a Pyranha S8 and hated it) that quit because the learning curve was too steep and they got scared/swam all the time.
If you start in a creek boat some say because it's more forgiving you can develop bad habits or get in over your head too quickly. But if you start in a creek boat chances are you're going to have more fun initially and get into the water more often.
In the end I believe that's what really matters- time on the river. If you're serious about learning nothing beats time in your boat. A couple guys I started with are frustrated that they're in their 3rd season and still can't roll/swim all the time, but that's because they only paddle 10 days a season. A good thing about group classes is although sometimes you don't learn much, you meet people that are similar in skill level and eager to get out and you begin to develop a crew.
Clubs are good but IMO they can also be a shit show with two people who know what they're doing leading and sweeping and 5 beginners swimming all over the place in between. Finding one or two people that will take you in, that are confident enough to round up you and your gear is probably the best way to go.
I would definitely agree about time on the river being a huge part of the learning curve. My first couple seasons we didn't have much time on the river at all. We were living in Craig, and paddled the mostly flat water there a few times. It has one fun rapid. Last year we might have paddled Steamboat two or maybe three times max. This year we've paddled Steamboat a lot, and I think being comfortable on the run, knowing the river, and running it so many times is really what has helped me so much. I'm ready to get on some new rivers.