Looking for advice on a few different aspects of whitewater kayaking. I'm 26 and have a few friends that have convinced me that I would like to try the sport. In 2010 I went to a few roll practices in the tri-cities area and liked it a lot, however I eventually phased out my interest due to a lack of resources and nearby friends with whom I could go. That said, I am now a graduate student at UT and a recent rafting trip has rekindled my interest in the sport. Any help/advice with the following would be much appreciated.
1) As someone who is fairly isolated from most of my kayaking friends from undergrad, how do you go about finding groups to go with and what should I look for as far as trusting them not to drag me into anything that could gt me hurt? I see it like climbing, who you go with could make or break your experience and so I'm not sure how to go about finding a solid group.
2) What type of boat would you recommend for starters? Let's say my budget is around $600-800 for everything. If I recall correctly, I really enjoyed the Jackson 4Fun when I was attending the roll practices in the tri-cities. I am 6 ft tall and about 190 lbs. As far as my interests are concerned, I would like to be able to river run well and at least surf/play occasionally.
3) I live in Knoxville, TN. Does anyone have any specific suggestions as to roll practices or contacts that might be worth exploring? Also, what are my options as far as entry-level rapids near to my area.
Any feedback the forums could provide would really be appreciated. There may be other pertinent information that I'm not thinking about, if you feel that's the case then feel free to chime in with that information as well.