Event Report: H2O International

Basically, it all started as a club show… an event in NY state for some locals who’d banded together to form Club H2O. The club fizzled as clubs do when priorities change and the remnants were picked up by Jay Shoup. Shoup’s a local to Ocean City, Maryland so you can probably see where this was going to go.

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Today, H2Oi is more than just a show… literally. The show is the anchor, bringing in thousands of Audi and Volkswagen enthusiasts to one of the more laid back events of the season. During the day they hit nearby Fort Whaley for the show and at night they cruise the nearby Coastal Highway that bisects the peninsula of Ocean City, MD like one long swift cut top to bottom.

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Over the years, it is the off-campus activities that are the most likely draw for even more car enthusiasts. Cruise the coastal highway or pop into one of the countless get-togethers in neighboring parking lots and you’ll be astounded by just how many enthusiast cars can be seen taking over the area. Nearly every car on the strip and most in nearby parking lots are modified in some way. There’s a more rampant mix of eclecticism in town, as other owners of other European marques, Japanese marques and some exotics join the mix.

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In part, these other cars can likely be attributed to the wide-ranging taste of the stance scene, but others have just come for the four-wheeled party. In addition to the modified compacts, you’ll find high-roller and coal-roller trucks, muscle cars and more.

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The concoction is somewhat flammable. Toss so many hot cars, large egos and alcohol into the mix and you’ll get burnouts, fights, fireworks and the occasional accident like a would-be Cayman drifter who instead met a curb to the demise of at least a wheel/hub assembly and likely considerably more.

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To be fair to Ocean City, the town itself is somewhat patient. This place hosts bike week, various muscle car weeks and even Senior Week (as in partying high-schoolers and not AARP-card-carrying blue hairs). Theoretically, they’ve seen it all before… but then again, they’re only human. They still need to enforce some degree of the law, and as such many non-conforming cars were impounded and drunkards arrested. Perhaps that’s for the best though, as this show may eventually have to find a new home if that element can’t reign in the most idiotic element of the downtown party.

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Back at Fort Whaley, the show is still the draw for the most ardent VAG enthusiasts. The formula is relatively simple… the usual judged show formula also gets an invitation-only Top Dawg class for the most extensive and original builds.

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In addition to Top Dawg, this year also saw a dedicated show area created by Orchid Euro for cars that have been or will be featured in the UK’s Performance VW Magazine. This effectively doubled the size of the most elite builds and funneled many into the Orchid booth.

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Elsewhere around the event, it is evident that the growth isn’t just on the nearby Coastal Highway. The vendor count was also on the rise, seeing more hard part and software suppliers like APR and Unitronic taking on a more substantial role than the more traditional end-of-season T-shirt and decal purveyors.

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The mix of cars remained as eclectic as ever. Mk4 and Mk1 Volkswagens seem to be the most common, but other Volkswagens ranging from Air Cooled Beetles and Busses to multiple examples of the new-to-North America Mk7 proves that the all-encompasing love of the brand is bigger than ever.

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While we’re on the topic of the Mk7, many more were in attendance than what we saw at Waterfest.  Still somewhat of a rarity due to just how new they are, each Mk7 was still a treat to see.

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Of course, this show is more about style than it is about pace. It’s not that there aren’t fast cars at H20i, but there is no racing element and most attendees are on the lookout for the latest trends in modifying. To be sure, this continues to evolve.

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The mainly air-ride equipped stance scene is also alive and growing. Their numbers seem to grow every year and we find the Mk4, Mk5, and Mk6 Golf and Rabbit are by far the most favored Volkswagen platforms for this set.

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Whatever the style or Volkswagen model, H2Oi continues to grow as a spectacle for enthusiasts of the brand. Compared to huge events like Waterfest or even not so huge events like Cult Classic, the prevalence of non-VAG cars in Ocean City puts H2Oi in a league of it’s own.  If you’re into European cars, Maryland is the only place to be in late September.