You simply can’t try to cover last weekend’s H2O International show without acknowledging the elephant in the room… in the form of a rather massive hurricane that pummeled Ocean City, MD and thus H2Oi. Ask anyone who was there (or check out our hundreds of photos). They can tell you.
The usual early arrivals for H2Oi week were met with more of an end of days scenario, at least meteorologically speaking as predicted by news reports and a pre-emptive declaration of emergency by the state of Maryland. Early weather reports put the storm making landfall somewhere near Cape Hatteras, which could have meant it’d be even worse than it turned out to be. Thankfully, Joaquin stayed off shore, not entirely sparing the event weekend but allowing it to go off in earnest just the same.
By Friday, car enthusiasts were dealing with a fair degree of flooding and sideways rain, and yet the hardcore still came to have fun. Hit the #H2Oi2015 hashtag on Twitter and you’ll find images of overzealous automotive revelers attempting photo shoots on flooded pavement, with salt water waves lapping against their cars.
Don’t ask us. We don’t know why. There’s not much worse you can do to your car than immerse it in salt water.
Less ambitious or foolhardy (depending on who you ask) early arrivals simply cruised the strip and did their best to stay out of the high tide-induced flooding.
By Friday night, H2Oi mainstay exhibitors such as New German Performance and Volkswagen themselves had arrived at the show grounds and begun to find placement… not in their usual spots, but on ground where their sixteen wheeler transporters wouldn’t sink down to a level of unwanted permanence in the waterlogged turf of Camp Whaley.
APR announced from their headquarters south of Atlanta that they had decided not to put their rig or their employees into harms way… effectively with a stalled tropical storm over Georgia and South Carolina that they’d have to navigate in order manage an approach to a Joaquin deluged Ocean City. Unitronic arrived later that night, assessed the situation and decided to pull out as well. These two were followed by several more who also decided not to set up shop for the weekend.
No doubt many enthusiasts also weighed their options. As we prepared to depart our Pennsylvania offices, we noted on Facebook and Instagram any number of friends planning to attend announce they wouldn’t be making the trip. Once in Ocean City proper, we noted that attendance was definitely down but certainly not out. Cars still cruised the strip as rain flew sideways in strong winds.
Saturday at the show was sparse. The driving wind and light but steady rain kept many in the shelter of their cars, hotels, rental homes or in various bars and restaurants along the strip. Saturday night saw many head out onto the Coastal Highway despite the cold wet weather. Cars still cruised. Ocean City Police still enforced traffic violations.
By Sunday the hurricane was almost past. Some wind was still there and occasionally a bit of moisture in the air, but the sun came out and began to dry out some of the soup that had become the grassy fields of Fort Whaley.
With large open areas more mired, most of the show transferred to the hard-packed camping areas located in the woods. Slightly overcast skies combined with a canopy of trees and made for a surreal ambiance, while the rows and rows of cars stretched almost endlessly through the woods. Yes, attendance may have been down, but the still massive amount of cars should make clear just how, even in an off year that includes a hurricane, H2Oi is still a major event.
Even the show’s Top Dawg competition was well populated. Though not quite as big a grouping of the most impressive builds as chosen by show promoters that we’ve seen in other years, the cars on hand were still extremely impressive. All Volkswagens this year and with no Audi models so to speak, there was still at least one Audi-powered Passat station wagon complete with 2.7T conversion. Impressively, each of the Top Dawg cars remained on display all day long, despite occasional spats of rain and nothing but a bit of grass and some straw in order to keep them from also sinking into the soft mud. Judges placed trash bags on the ground in order to spy underneath without getting completely covered in mud.
All things considered, H2Oi was far from ruined thanks to Joaquin. Yes, attendance may have been down and the weather was by no means comfortable, but this all combined to bestow H2Oi 2015 with something so many shows often promise and don’t deliver. The always sought laid back atmosphere came with the rain, with lower car and attendance counts, and with fewer vendors to sell money. The fast pace and almost overwhelming nature of the event’s often gargantuan size shrunk down to a more managable level of enjoyable simplicity, where less to see meant time to listen to the live band or hang out and catch up with friends. A weekend that began as an endurance test ended as a somewhat water-logged day of rest and relaxation. For that, we’d like to thank Joaquin.