Now in its 14th year, H2O International is undoubtedly the most popular VW event on the calendar. Its combination of the best cars, beach location and laid-back nightlife make it the best weekend of the year for most VAG aficionados. It’s certainly the event we can look forward to and, while it might not have the scale and number of vendors that Waterfest can muster, it definitely has an unbeatable atmosphere.
Even heavy rain didn’t deter hordes of water-cooled fans from making the annual pilgrimage to Ocean City on Maryland’s coast. By arriving in late September when most of the tourist trade has departed, the Veedub crowd overwhelms the town. Everywhere you look there are people sitting by the side of the road, every restaurant parking lot is a car show, larger lots become impromptu GTGs, and it’s all accompanied by the sweet VR6 serenade as an endless stream of VWs parade past. If we could create a JDM-free Euro state, this is what it would look and sound like. For one weekend, we rule the roost. It’s unlike anywhere else in the world except perhaps Wörthersee or Wolfsburg.
Inevitably, we can’t place all our photos here, so we’ll compile an online gallery of the cars that didn’t make it into the mag. It might take us a while to do this, but keep checking eurotuner.com or email us a reminder.
Of course, the show might not please everybody. If you’re against the stance crew on air-ride with lots of poke, H2O will boil your blood. More so than ever before, the majority of show cars had gone this route, dropped on their frame rails, but able to raise themselves over the curbs and mud to leave the showground.
Located alongside Air Lift was Rotiform – the two companies owning H2O 2011 with their cutting-edge products. A few years ago, industry experts were predicting the decline of the wheel market, but enthusiast-led firms like Rotiform and fifteen52 are proving that products targeted at like-minded customers can sell.
Interestingly, it seems to have broken the stranglehold BBS held for many years, although the RS wheels were still to be found under a large number of cars because quality never gets old.
The vendor areas were dominated by software giants Unitronic and APR vying for attention with new products and show cars. Some of APR’s big-turbo kits definitely grabbed attention, but Unitronic’s Project A3 and the Mk5 Caddy in their booth grabbed the headlines.
With the Mk6 Jetta and new Passat available for almost a year, it was slightly worrying to see so few examples at the show. Again APR had perhaps the best of the Jettas, and Ian Avilla from VW/Audi having the best/only Passat Wagon. Considering the Jetta is VW’s bread and butter, it must be slightly worrying to see it making such little impact in the scene, and we’ll be fascinated to see how many new Beetles arrive next season. Yet this was also the year the Eos came good, so there’s hope yet!
Aside from that, H2O was the usual mix of home-built specials (with rust cars making a minor comeback) to big-budget ballers. The diversity of modifications and styles keeps the scene fresh and means there a niche for every wallet, fad and desire.
Alexi’s '98 Golf GL was at the epicenter of H20i in stunning fashion. His mom, dad and friends had completed the project car in his memory after Alexi sadly passed away earlier this year.
When faced with a choice of wheels, mom pored through her son’s sketchbooks, but Matt from fifteen52 had already received a napkin sketch from Alexi. The 15x8/9" multi-piece wheels were actually being finished when Matt contacted his parents to cancel the order and return the deposit. Instead, Alexi’s mom wanted the wheels finished and the distinctive design was named "Alexi" in his honor.
Family and friends plan to take the car to as many shows as possible to commemorate Alexi’s passion for cars.
Following the purchase of the horseracing track in Ocean City by a casino, H2O’s traditional venue apparently felt it didn’t need the business or want the problem of underage attendees in its parking lots. Therefore, organizer Jay Shoup enlisted the services of the Most Blessed Sacrament Catholic School in Berlin, MD.
Located on the same Racetrack Road as the previous location, it was simple to find, although traffic congestions seemed a little more problematic this year.
With its circular driveway, H2O placed the vendors around the school, creating a nice flow of people around the venue. However, the best laid plans were undone by the weather, which turned the grass parking lots into a swamp. And with cars on both sides of the road, the event was more disjointed than unsual. However, it easily accommodated the big-rigs from Unitronic, APR and VWoA. Naturally, we pined for the old location with its familiar layout but we’re confident Shoup’s gang can make MBSCS work in time.
Every year, a small group of cars who attend the Saturday BBQ are invited to participate in Sunday Top Dawg competition. The cars are corralled together and each driver gets to explain his mods. A panel of eight judges then decides the winner, who receives $1000 for his efforts.
This year’s entries were incredible, with a few et feature cars in the running. We certainly had our favorites and would’ve been hard pressed to select a winner.
In the end, the judges gave it to Pat Tamminen and his deserving supercharged R32. It was certainly the cleanest car in the competition but we’d add our voice to the chorus who’d prefer to see a tuning competition rather than a concours…
While JDM cars have always had a slightly annoying presence at H2O, it was very interesting to see the dramatic increase in the number of BMWs on the strip. These guys read the same magazines and websites, so know the score and, to be honest, there’s a lack of events for the large East Coast Bimmer crowd.
The strength of the new stance movement seems to be uniting the entire import car scene, with JDM and BMW owners adopting the same approach VW enthusiasts have taken for years. This common ground is great for the scene, and it was nice to see so many E30 and E36 owners dropping their rides in the weeds. There were a few older 7-Series on the strip but the star of the show had to be Mike Burroughs’ impeccable '71 BMW 2800CS on Rotiform SJC and air suspension.
With heavy rain over the weekend, the roads around Ocean City were constantly slick for the shenanigans that occur on H2O weekend. Generally, people cruise the strip but the abundance of a) traffic lights, b) turbo cars and c) a straight road inevitably leads to a few impromptu drag races. This in turn leads to what we call the VR6 serenade – the unmistakable sound of VRs running up the strip while you eat, cruise and sleep.
We find the noise hypnotic and enjoy the nightlife as much as the show itself. Cruising among thousands of fellow Euro enthusiasts is something you rarely get to do, so it’s a real treat and something everybody should enjoy. However, we have to consider the impact we have on the local population.
This year, the police were again ever-present but appeared to use a light hand rather than a big stick. At any given time there was always somebody receiving a ticket, but thousands of cars gave them lots of opportunities.
We inevitably heard of some frivolous tickets but most seemed to be in response to genuine traffic offences. Otherwise, the police seemed to hold back and allow the majority to have fun, providing it didn’t get out of hand.
Most of the problems we encountered appeared to be caused by the influx of JDM machinery attracted to H2O either by the prospect of a race or the blurring of the scenes by the stance movement.
Whatever the reason, it was generally a four-cylinder Honda making the most noise, taking the most risks. The biggest incident of the weekend involved a Supra demolishing a building’s fire escape. The driver had to be cut from the wreckage and we hope he’ll recover. But the JDM crew could give H2O International a bad reputation among the locals.
At 1am we watched a Nissan S14 spin at speed in the middle of an intersection, and earlier that day we watched a local T-bone an R32 as he tried to cross traffic at a light.
With such a large group of car enthusiasts, these problems are inevitable but we need to ensure the locals and police don’t get fed up and kick us out of their town. We’re all ambassadors for the show, but street racing and late-night parties could jeopardize it all.
If you’re like us, there’s nothing better than a round of “crazy golf”, and Ocean City is awash with some spectacular themed courses. We took ourselves to a couple to try the tees and report on our findings (we paid – this isn’t sponsored!).
Our first stop was Old Pro Golf’s Temple of Dragons (23rd St, Coastal Highway). It’s a wonderful course with dragons, a smoke-machine, two-story temple and some challenging tees. What’s more, the friendly owners gave us an extra game free when they were quiet.
Both rounds were close but, with a 2.3 stroke average, I beat Neill twice by a healthy margin. He pulled it closer in the second game but nine attempts on tee three and 18 put him out of realistic contention.
The next evening we invited Brad and Matt from fifteen52 and photographer Josh to join us as we descended upon Old Pro Golf’s Prehistoric Dinosaur outdoor and Undersea Adventure indoor ranges (68th St). With rain in the air, we weren’t taking any chances…
Playing outdoors, the moving dinos were a treat for the crazy golfer. With 1552 making a late appearance, Josh ran me close but I again won with a round of 41, beating Neill into third place.
The indoor adventure was perhaps the slickest, housing a mini-sub you played through as well as a coral island. Unaware of the complex rules of crazy golf, Brad and Matt made some rookie mistakes, with the latter losing heart. As a result, I’m embarrassed to claim my fourth win, two points ahead of Brad, three in front of Josh.
If you’re heading to OC MD next year, we’ll see you on the links. Check out Old Pro Golf (oldprogolf.com) – they have four locations including a pirate ship and indoor safari that needs further investigation!
This was my first H2Oi but it’s already the best VW/Audi show weekend I’ve ever experienced. While the show itself was smaller than the hype led me to believe, the weekend made up for it in several unique ways.
The strip, for example, is perfect for a good time. Our condo’s fifth-floor balcony provided tons of entertainment – like the JDM cars getting loose in the rain and people trying to figure out how to ride scooters. But what really made it special was watching VR6s rumble down the block at night.
It was also great to see the crowds of people camped on the streets watching the the Euros cruising, along with the packed parking lots with GTGs. The crowds would holler at anything interesting that passed by – even our VW Routan loaner got a buzz after we let the auto doors go wild.
Overall, it was a great weekend. I now understand why somebody on the West Coast would want to take their car to Ocean City for H2Oi. I’m ticking off the days on my calendar until next year.