Posted by: carldelo on Jun-19-12 11:48 PM (EST)
I think it would make a great deal of sense for you to go on some tours with outfitters in your area. They will know the details of the local paddling, be able to recommend appropriate and safe equipment, reasonable solo destinations, etc.
I'm a paddling loner myself, and almost always go alone. But the first year I rented to learn about equipment and get some paddling pointers and safety skills. The second and third year I had my own equipment, but still went on some guided tours and joined a local paddling club for group paddles. I've left that behind, mostly, but in the process learned what I'm comfortable doing on my own, and know how to use the equipment I have.
And you can't underestimate the value of having a good, efficient forward stroke. I had a couple of good teachers early on, and it was a big help.