North Shore native Paul De Jersey remembers exactly what he was thinking the first time he saw the pointy product that would eventually become his life’s passion.
It was basically a refined version of the old bed of nails – an invention used to dazzle onlookers through the magic of physics and weight distribution – and it kind of freaked De Jersey out. After all, he wasn’t an acupuncturist or a health scientist or a circus freak. He was a hockey player at NCAA Div. 1 Providence College, where his trainer, a former Cirque de Soleil performer from Eastern Europe, pulled out a mat covered in small, sharp, metal spikes and told Paul to lie on it to help him with lower back pain.
“I kind of looked at him, like ‘what the hell is this mat?’” De Jersey says with a laugh. He did as he was told, however, lying down on the spikes.
“I remember just being really tingly. The first five minutes it hurt, and then after five minutes I didn’t really feel it on my back anymore.”
De Jersey says his body became more and more relaxed until he eventually fell asleep.
“I ended up going on there for 25 minutes. I just didn’t know what to think of it – I’d never felt anything like it. I just felt better. I could feel the warmth in that area and I could just feel the tightness kind of dissipate. I didn’t know what it was doing, but I knew it was doing something mechanically within the body.
The sharp treatment left an impression on De Jersey, although he didn’t think much more about it until he finished his hockey career with the Friars. When he hung up the skates, however, his mind came back to the mat, and he called up his old trainer to find out more about it.
“I wanted to buy one,” he says. “That thing was incredible.”
It wasn’t for sale. At least, not in North America. His trainer, who would later become his business partner, put De Jersey in touch with a sports scientist in Ukraine who created the mat using high-grade metals such as silver and copper.
“It’s an intricate process,” De Jersey says. “They wouldn’t really tell me too much about it, they’re very hush-hush with the way they make it. All I know is they have this machine out there that produces them … that individually puts each needle in.”
De Jersey dug deeper and found that while there were several similar products in North America, all of them used cheaper plastics instead of the high-grade metal.
“The metal one is sort of like the plastic one on steroids,” De Jersey says. “It can hit those reflex points and massage those areas, but the metal also creates this natural heating effect so it warms up the body as well and that helps relax tense muscles when you create that heating effect.”
De Jersey was sold on the product, and a plan was hatched to rebrand the mat and bring it to North America. The 25-year-old Collingwood School grad, who grew up in West Vancouver and now lives in North Vancouver, dubbed the product Akuspike and is now ready to bring his mat to the masses as the sole distributor in North America.
Akuspike is selling mats for $120 and spiked balls for $35. The secret of the spikes is that they mimic acupressure, a theory related to acupuncture without any puncturing of the skin, says De Jersey. Used correctly, the Akuspike products apply many tiny points of pressure to the skin without breaking through and drawing blood.
“I always tell people you can use it anywhere except for the eyes – don’t put it anywhere near your eyes!” says De Jersey. “It’s self-treatment you can use at home instead of having someone stick needles in you while you lie there, which is a lot more expensive and obviously less practical. … It’ll undoubtedly increase circulation and blood flow. And when you have an increase in blood flow that leads to a bunch of other benefits. You’re just all-around feeling better, you’re relaxing those tense muscles.”
The most intense experience is taking off your shoes and standing on the mat, the full force of your body weight pushing down on the spikes. That first step is a doozy.
“It’s definitely intense at the beginning. There’s no denying that,” says De Jersey. “The first time you use it your body kind of goes into fight or flight mode because it’s never felt anything like this. There’s so much pressure on spots that you’ve never massaged before. … When I first got the mat, I couldn’t even go on it. I was so tight – I just couldn’t do it. But now I stand on it in the morning and, no joke, I don’t even feel it when I step on it.”
There’s a meditative aspect to the treatment as well, De Jersey says.
“A huge part of it is mental. It’s not just a physical benefit on the mat. It kind of forces you to be in tune with the body. When you’re standing on the mat, you’re not thinking about anything else. … You’re in the moment. It almost tricks your body to be in the moment. I use it just before bed to help me fall asleep at night. It really does help.”
De Jersey has already won over some high-powered friends. NHL star Sam Reinhart, who grew up with De Jersey in the Hollyburn Hockey association, and former tennis pro Grant Connell swear by the product and have come out to help De Jersey get it launched.
“I wish I had one of these mats when I played on the ATP Tour,” Connell said in a testimonial for the product. “It would have been in my carry-on bag for every tour stop.”
De Jersey is hoping to get more athletes on board, or anyone who wants to take a stab at a unique new health and wellness product.
“I’m not a professional,” he says. “I didn’t invent acupressure, I didn’t invent this mat, but it really does work.”
For more information visit akuspike.com.