Recently I received an email from an old friend. He asked a simple question, one that I am amazed I hadn't covered before. His question was this:
For beginners do you recommend a lake, river or bay setting? If you had the choices of course.
Wonderful question. And the answer of course is, it depends. I take most first lessons on a lake. In part due to proximity, but in part due to controllability. I don't have to worry about tides, or the current of a river. Tides and currents are both important elements to take into consideration.
I previously lived near the Hudson river, which is also tidally influenced. It is a great paddling destination, but one has to be aware of the tidal effects. When the tide is flooding, it is fighting the effect of the rivers current. But when the tide is ebbing, they are working together. I always tried to start my paddle heading into the current, so that when I am tired and turn around, I am not fighting the current to get home.
The same can be said for early paddles in a bay. What is the tide doing and how does it effect the local waters? Plan your paddle accordingly. So you start off working against the tide (tides can create currents, but they aren't the same thing), so you have its help coming home. If you plan accordingly you can put in towards the end of a tide cycle, and turn around when the tide does. So you are getting a current push in both directions.
Of course all of these answers are neglecting to take into account wind. Beginning lessons I like to have on fairly windless days. But around lesson three - when a student is starting to get comfortable with the forward stroke - I will seek out some wind. I have certain exercises that I like to make a new student do to experience the power of wind.
Recently paddling with my student Grace, there was a ten knot wind, and we paddled into it. I wanted her to feel how much even a soft wind can effect her speed. After a time we came around a point - that for a time sheltered us from the wind, and then created a wind zone as we rounded it. This implanted the idea of using the land to shelter you from the wind. We then paddled a stretch of coast that led to a dam. The dam was buoyed off. And we did the following exercise. We paddled up to a buoy and circled it. This allowed Grace to feel the effects of the wind as the boat was turned 365º - it also forced her to work to turn a long kayak quickly. At the next buoy we turned the boats the opposite direction. So again she could feel the wind on all parts of her boat front/side/stern as she circled the buoy again.
So really the answer is Any of these locations is suitable for a new paddler, as long as the conditions match the skill level. Think about where you are before you are on the water. What is the tide doing and when does it change, how is the land interacting with the tide, or wind, or current and how will that effect me on the water. Most importantly, look at your surroundings. See how they are effected by the current conditions, and keep track of that effect. how much are trees moving, and how much is water moving from wind, and current. Keep track of those changes so when they do change, for better or worse you notice them. And respond accordingly.