Buff vs Sunscreen

The Buff revolutionized fishing sun protection

The Buff revolutionized fishing sun protection


Hey Tom
I am wondering what kind of sunscreen you wear?  The Florida sun is killing me.

Thanks for your time.  Love the show!

Martin G


This is a great question!  

I have probably worn just about every kind of sunscreen there is as most clients leave whatever they have brought on the boat.  When I am cleaning out the boat after a long season, I sometimes find 30 or more bottles, tubes, sprays or other containers of sunscreen.  If pressed, I will wear whatever is on the boat, but I try to wear SPF of 30 or less when I have to wear it because I believe (only opinion, no fact) that the chemicals in the 30+ are stronger than below 30.  To answer your question, there really is not a brand of sunscreen that I particularly like.  In fact, I prefer not to wear any sunscreen at all.  

Taking care of my body is extremely important to me.  I eat organic food every time I can (or even better…something that I killed or caught), I don't drink alcohol or do drugs, I workout 6 days a week, avoid junk food, drink tons of water and try to get 8 hours of sleep each night.  Despite paying attention to what I put in my body, I found myself smothering my skin with a cocktail of chemicals daily.  I don't know if the chemicals in sunscreen are harmful or not, but as a rule, I try to avoid eating things full of preservatives and chemicals.  It seemed only wise to try to avoid daily use of sunscreen if at all possible.  I don't really advocate anyone else doing what I do, but that is the way I work.

What?!? Are you advocating not wearing sunscreen?

I may not wear chemical sunscreen much, but I do protect myself from the sun.  I am very careful in the sun and I have seen tons of guides suffer from skin cancer…it is absolutely nothing to mess around with.  

When I was guiding every day in the first few years of my career, I used to wear shorts, a short sleeve t-shirt and a baseball cap.  I would get sunburned even with sunscreen. This sunburn would speed dehydration and I felt tired or worn out.  I could not guide for 15 or 20 days in a row without a day or two off the water to get out of the sun.

I started to wear long sleeved shirts made of cotton at first and that definitely made a difference in how I felt at the end of the day.  Later, I covered up more by wearing a lightweight pair of pants and synthetic shirts as well.  The baseball cap turned into a big, wide brimmed straw hat and I continued to feel better and better.  Because I was covering up, I could then guide 30 or 40 days in a row without a day off and I was far less tired at the end of each day.

The straw hat proved to be a problem on windy days and I went back to the baseball cap and sunscreen, but I never liked this combo.  The sunscreen would inevitably get in my mouth or eyes and I never liked that feeling.  Some days I would run out of sunscreen or just forget to apply it.  Even with an occasional sunburn, it became really obvious that the more I covered up, the better I felt and the more charters I could do in a row without a day off.   Still, alot would have to change before I could set my personal record of 176 days in a row several years later.

Marshall Cutchin was wearing a purple hooded face mask when he guided and I took notice.  I got one as well, but never was completely happy with it as the elastic would stretch out and the hood always flopped around.  The neck was loose and the wind would blow it around allowing sunburn above the collar.  Regardless of the flaws, it was still way better than sunscreen or the floppy hat.  People looked at me like I was completely crazy and it probably made some customers uncomfortable, but I knew what a big difference this mask was making in how I felt, so I just wore it anyway.

One day in 1999, one of my favorite customers, Mo Smith, was looking through his tackle bag and I saw something in there.  It was a head shaped card with some fabric around it.  I asked what it was and he said, “I dont really know, my wife gave it to me.”  We picked it up and looked it over.  The product was called a Buff and I asked if I could wear it.  As soon as I put the thing on, I knew this was a winner.  It was perfect.  

Just a simple thin sock open on both ends, the Buff could be easily adjusted to be tighter or looser simply by moving it up or down on the back of my head.  It protected my neck fully and had lots of other big advantages too.  I noticed right away that the Buff cut the glare significantly.  Just like Baseball players putting black grease under their eyes, the Buff would block glare and actually stay put.  I could see into the water better and that meant that my customers caught more fish.  More fish for the customer meant that they were happy and happy customers return.  

There are very few things that I try and immediately replace what I was using before.  On that day, I ditched the purple mask and NEVER picked it up again.

That afternoon, I made a call to Buff and talked to Shirley Brunetti about their product.  At the time, they had no idea that fishing could be a place that their product might sell and I was the first fisherman to ever contact the company.  I explained what was different about the way we fished and she was intrigued.  I continued to talk to Shirley and developed a relationship with her and Buff and began to tell everyone I knew about this new product.  

Soon, a few other guides were wearing Buffs and then a few clients also realized the benefits.  The masked guides were still being looked at as freaks and weirdos, but gradually, a few more began to come around.  I was still guiding in Idaho and Wyoming and took the Buff out there as well.  Despite looking strange, this product made such a huge difference in the way I felt and performed that I just kept wearing it.

After a few years, about 50% of the flats guides wore Buffs, but I had not seen any offshore fishermen wearing the one.   Eventually, offshore Capt.s and Mates were wearing the Buff.  I started to see advertisements and pictures in magazines of anglers all over the world wearing them. The success of this product was completely based on the massive advantages that it offered.  All anyone had to do was to give one an honest try and they were hooked.

It is cool to think that this worldwide phenomenon started on a little flats boat in the Marquesas.  I was just in the right place in the right time to be the first fishing guide to find this product.  The success has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the product.  To this day, I am just happy that I found it and could contribute in a small way to the success of the company.  Now, Buff is a partner in our Saltwater Experience and we just celebrated 15 years of working together at Icast.  Check out this years catalog below:


If you haven’t tried a Buff, go here and get one.  You will likely be a believer on the first time you wear it.

As for sunscreen, I really try not to wear it at all, but I only recommend no sunscreen if you are able to keep the Buff on at all times and wear long sleeves and pants.  Many times on Saltwater Experience, I have to pull the Buff down so that my face can be seen.  It is important to production quality to be able to see my lips move when I am talking.  One time, I fllmed a flyfishing movie called Location X and the guide wanted to remain faceless and nameless.  He wore a Buff he entire movie.  It was cool, but I could not go an entire season with my face concealed.  When I am shooting the show, I wear the Buff as much as possible, but also because I know that it is going to have to be down, I use sunsceen as well but dont like it.  On regular fishing days, I do not pull the Buff down at all and even keep it on while washing the boat at the end of the day.

The sun is no joke.  Protect yourself!  Some choose chemical sunscreens, I choose to cover up if possible.  Choice is yours, but make sure you are protecting yourself from the sun or you will have a short fishing career.  Wear a Buff, long sleeves and pants and you will extend your career by decades.

All the best,

Tom Rowland


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