Would-be paddlers have various routes to follow, depending on what they want to do.
Anyone interested in paddling whitewater with plastic kayaks or rafts should get proper training. Several courses are available, dealing with Eskimo-rolls, basic boat control, understanding whitewater, paddle stroke techniques, big-volume river-running, creek running, playboating, etc. Advanced courses are offered on most of the subjects as well. It is not a good idea to let your buddy teach you, as his own technique is probably not that good, either. Always check that your instructor is APA-qualified.
If your interest lies in slalom, wildwater or K1-racing, you will have to join a club affiliated with the CSA. The clubs have programs geared towards novices, and will offer advice on how to get started. They will also give more information on equipment, paddling technique and training. The clubs have all the details of the different races, and will assist new members in registering and qualifying for the races.
Once again, all paddlers are advised to do a Swiftwater Safety and Rescue course accredited by APA.