Ocean City Turns Back on H2oi and Other Disruptive Automotive Events

The city looks to push out unsanctioned events due to “disrespectful” enthusiasts.

byRob Stumpf|
Ocean City Turns Back on H2oi and Other Disruptive Automotive Events

Ocean City, Maryland is home to some of the largest vehicle gatherings on the east coast of the United States. After continuous years of abuse from visitors to the town, local citizens and authorities have finally said enough is enough. Now, they're looking to force the unsanctioned events out of the city.

It's important to note that one of the events which Ocean City considered to be the absolute worst isn't an actual event that takes place within the city limits. Instead, H2O International (aka H2Oi) has been historically held about 14 miles inland at Fort Whaley Campground. As the event grew, it began to bring more of a crowd than just Volkswagen and Audi enthusiasts, and a cultural divide of purists upset because their European-only show had been invaded.

An air-cooled Volkswagen bus sits near the OCMD boardwalk, via Rob Stumpf

Since non-European vehicles were not welcomed to participate in the show, they flocked to the nearest vacation spot: Ocean City, Maryland. Self-described as a "safe, clean and green family resort," the locals became more upset with the unofficial gathering of "small cars" each passing year, claiming that the very values of their fair city were being violated with a weekend of lawlessness and civil disobedience.

According to the crime statistics, 2017 was an exceptionally bad year, especially if you consider that H2Oi itself was canceled. Attendees poured in from all across the United States, Canada, and even Europe to attend an unsanctioned and unorganized event within city limits. There were vehicle accidents, collisions reported with pedestrians involving police vehicles, and even with incomplete citation information, it still shows to be one of the busiest years for officers.

Crime statistics revolving around the H2Oi Weekend, via OCPD

Proposed changes would involve enforcing new vehicle codes, portable speed bumps, rolling roadblocks, scheduling construction during potential show dates, increasing criminal charges for burnouts to felony reckless endangerment, and stricter vehicle impounding. A proposition to install security cameras along coastal highway for monitoring has also been made. If needed, the city is considering bringing in the National Guard to assist with the rowdiness.

Perhaps some of the heaviest responsibility would fall on the shoulders of sponsors and promoters, which the city council appears to have directly in their sights. Proposed actions for promoters range from simply asking them to move the event, to preventing the rental of specific areas within the city, and even legal action against them, potentially holding the promoters liable for increased event costs incurred by the city.

Despite the threats, enthusiasts still aren't folding. Some have booked their hotel rooms, others who collect tickets like badges of honor claim to be getting ready to "send it again" next year, even if the event is canceled again. Some have begun to look into other popular tourist spots to move the unsanctioned event, though no word has arisen from the organizer of the official H2Oi event held outside of city limits.

The demographics of those who flock to Ocean City during H2Oi weekend is generally of much younger individuals than those who attend Spring or Fall Cruise Week, and many are blaming the unsanctioned event attended by the younger audience for being the reason that all auto shows get such a bad rap. Cruise Week also had its fair share of accidents, and even another pedestrian-involved crash involving a police officer, however, it was unfortunately met with a fatality

The city has recognized that there is more than one side to blame, creating a scoring rubric on how to focus its efforts on repeat offenders, though it is absent from many other events which are known for being problematic. Many tourists who are not in the events singled out feel that generalizing all shows is unwarranted. "Punishing a spring and fall event for the actions of a group of people that invade a town on a weekend when a car show is canceled is appalling," said one show goer, "I'll take my tourist dollars elsewhere."

While a large number of locals are happy to have changes, others dispute the change, fearing increased taxes to make up for lost business revenue. Likewise, business owners are less than pleased with the potential decisions, calling out city officials for being historically anti-business, and reaching for a change in their local government. Places of business also appear to be unintentionally punished with some of the proposed changes, which include a curfew, limiting business hours to 9 p.m., and even closing portions of the roads to limit traffic flow.

As someone who has attended H2Oi over the past six years, it has been one of the most conflicting experiences as an auto enthusiast. I've met some of my best friends through the show, have seen some amazing vehicles, and it has always been the pinnacle of shows I look forward to each year. Until you stand shoulder-to-shoulder in a crowd of 300 exuberant, cheering people while that one car you recognize from the internet is doing a big smokey burnout in the middle of everyone, you just don't understand how truly influential the event is to the attendees, and that's what makes it even more dangerous—every scene kid looking to get their two seconds of fame in Krispy's video.

But when I wake up on Sunday and leave town, I can't help but understand what the residents despise about the weekend. Looking side-to-side as I take my last stroll on Coastal Highway to leave the city, I see blocks-long trails of trash practically paving sidewalks, rubber laid across the streets, grass stomped and torn up. It's a disaster and locals are stuck fixing the problems.

Nothing has yet been set in stone by the city council. However, it's easy to see why the locals are upset with event attendees. If anything, this should show fellow enthusiasts that there is a real problem, and those attending the most reckless show (by the city's definition) will be scapegoated until the problem is resolved.