Whether you like it or not, if you’re a modern day car enthusiast in the US, you probably know about H2Oi in Ocean City, Maryland.
It’s a week of car meets, cruises, and general hooligan behavior. But it didn’t always have the reputation it does now.
H2Oi started originally in the early 2000s as an exclusive show for VW/Audi. It was dubbed H2O to account for the VAG turning to water-cooled cars after producing their iconic air-cooled engines for decades.
As the years went on, it became more and more popular as the VW/Audi niche grew and the event grew through word of mouth and forums like Audizine, and VWVortex. However, with a show like H2O building it’s repertoire, and the ever growing advancements of social media, eventually, H2O became viral and a spot for the young and reckless. Everyone who thought they were something, or that their car was something, had to go. It became something like a status symbol for young car enthusiasts. Influencers flocked to it for scene points, and others, even non car enthusiasts went just to attend parties or hang out on the sidewalks with their buddies.
By the time I befriended some VW enthusiasts, H2Oi was already “banned” and canceled in Ocean City. Sponsors and official flyers were set to Atlantic City, however that didn’t stop people from going to Ocean City, where everything was familiar, and of course, the tradition.
My friends decided to go and pushed me to come along with them. Knowing the talk about H2O, I didn’t consider it to really be my type of scene. But when opportunity knocks, can you really say no to a free vacation?
What you see on the news is true. Block to block racing. Burnouts producing billows of smoke between various city blocks. People walking around obviously drunk and getting arrested. Two step noises everywhere.
What you don’t see, is the bonding between strangers. Strangers including other strangers, laughing, watching cars drive by on the strip together. People befriending others because they like the t shirt they were wearing, or what they drove. What you don’t see is the organized, well thought out car meets in certain parking lots for niche cars, like a pop up meet for MK1 Golfs. People drive from all parts of the country for H2O, and it’s not uncommon to befriend let’s say, another MK1 Golf owner you would have never met if it weren’t for H2O.
The media tells you it’s a nuisance to Ocean City. I wouldn’t doubt it. But I will say, other tourists that travel to Ocean City unbeknownst to them during the week of H2O didn’t seem to hate it. At a Fractured Prune one Saturday morning, my friends and I were waiting in line for some fresh donuts when a little old lady came up to us. “Excuse me, can you tell me what’s going on here?”, she said. “You mean about the car show?”, we all asked. “Yes, I’ve never seen anything like it! What’s happening?”
We all looked at each other, trying to think of some way to explain the absurd nature of people slamming their cars to the ground for scene points, to an elderly woman. It was then, that my friend Erik came up with a brilliant analogy. “Did you ever see the movie, American Graffiti?” he muttered. She shook her head and said yes. “It’s essentially the same thing, but with newer cars. Everyone hangs out and drives around to have a good time.”
It was as if a lightbulb went off in her head and suddenly all made sense. The young adults of today suddenly didn’t seem so far off from her generation, when they were our age. The cars might be different, the technology might be different, but at heart the mentality of kids hadn’t changed. It was a statement that stopped the dividing of the generations, and instead, made everything more relatable.
She was filled with joy after her understanding of H2O. She stated she was glad to ask us as we seemed so approachable. After that, she was happy to know people are still going out and doing something with their lives, and if it’s truly like American Graffiti, then it’s purely in the name of good fun. If anything, I learned that the media is just fed from older people’s confusion of H2O.
I’m not sure there’s any justification for the truly reckless people and the damage done to the city from some of the bad seeds. At night, it does get raunchy and if you’re not careful you can get caught in a crowd fight or get into other trouble. But I think there’s still good people and good intentions there at Ocean City.