Kayakers kayak for different reasons: some of us love to kayak on glassy water and drift along quietly;
some of us like to kayak down rivers; some like to cover lots of miles; some of us like a bit of whitewater; some of us like surf and swell.
In a big community like CKC, it's important to remember that what often works well for one paddler might not work at all for another. Luckily, we mostly know one another from trips, symposia, or the CKC forums and so we are respectful, generous, and kind.
Whatever your kayaking interest, you'll often find at some point you want to “skill up” a bit. Before you sign up for a class or symposium, do some homework on yourself and some fieldwork on your chosen venue and instructor. This can help you spend your hard-earned money wisely and emerge more satisfied with your learning experience.
First, ask yourself what sort of student you are.
Do you do better one on one than in a large group? If so, individual lessons might work better at first than a symposium class with 8 students.
Do you tend to be a thinker and need to understand things theoretically prior to attempting to execute them? Or do you tend to just want to watch and then do? Make sure that both you and your instructor know this in advance. Then you can help your instructor create the best class for your needs.
Do you have any fears? This is important and often overlooked.
For me personally, I wasn't told by the first company I trained with that I was going to learn wet exits with a sprayskirt on. I'd been bullied and trapped underwater as a kid and the idea of being upside down in a skirted kayak seemed overwhelming. Luckily, my instructor (Robert Smith) just sat with me through it, and was reassuring, so it all worked out. But it would have been better if I had known to get details on what would happen that day and to clearly disclose my fears. Now, I'm happy as a clam underwater, but it took me a long time to feel at ease. I need instructors who are patient and not punitive. Now, I seek out those I have heard are patient and encouraging and quickly discard those that are not. It's just what works for me.
Do you have any physical limitations? If so, let your instructor know. Many instructors also have adaptive skills training.
Then, ask yourself what, specifically, you hope to gain from the class. It helps to clarify your goals.
Perhaps you want to be able to turn your kayak with ease in the wind. Perhaps you want to learn to climb back in your kayak. Perhaps you want to learn to roll. Perhaps you want to learn to surf.
These are all great things to learn and all of them take some time to master. You might dip your toe in at a symposium and get a taste of each. You might take one class a time, then go off and practice with your kayak friends from CKC. For me, I like to learn one thing at a time.
Finally, get some local knowledge. Ask others who know you and whose skills you admire which instructor they think would be a good fit for you.
Look at the kayak forums and websites. Who is more structured? Who tends to be gentle and soft spoken? Who tends to demonstrate strokes clearly and effectively? Who is excellent at navigation? Who is an excellent rolling instructor? Once you've selected a teacher, try to talk with them a bit beforehand.
Teachers and students are individual. A great fit is key to both developing your skills and enjoying learning.